Leaders often settle for control when they could have influence. Mind you, control in leadership is not a bad thing—in fact, in many situations it’s vital. But it’s only one approach.

One of the most common ways that the control vs. influence question shows up is in communication. Leaders with a control approach tend to talk more, listen less and generally dominate conversations. You might say they actively seek to “win” the conversation by being the most visible and obvious speaker.

There’s a natural tendency to believe that if I’m talking, I’m in control—or, more accurately, if I’m not talking I’ve lost control.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

There’s a natural tendency to believe that … if I’m not talking I’ve lost control.

And Your Point Is…?

The only time you need to be in control is when you really need to be—which is not 100% the time.

So What?

The tendency to “win” conversations likely comes from patterns developed over years of controlling conversations and getting some good results, so you did it more; rinse and repeat. Now it’s a habit you don’t even know you have … and it’s undermining your influence—though none of your subordinates are probably going to tell you about it.

In fact, they are probably working hard to emulate you because you consistently model the (perceived) behavior required to move up in the organization. So you’re not only building this behavior pattern into your team, you’re likely baking it into the culture of your organization.

You’re also missing opportunities to listen to what your team is really thinking, what they actually know and how they would handle things—apart from your direction. As Andy Stanley put it, “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”

So, do you really need to have the last word?

Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say. (Andy Stanley)

The Big Picture

Think: What’s the goal of my leadership? Is it submission to my dominance? Or is it to influence other people to develop and achieve their highest possible level of success/effectiveness?

I strongly recommend shooting for the latter.

Your Next Step

Ask: What’s really driving my dominating behavior? What is preventing me from being content with letting the other person “win” the conversation (when my control is not essential to the outcome)?

What is preventing me from being content with letting the other person “win” the conversation?

Think: Start with the end in mind. For any conversation, fix in your mind the best possible outcome—for the other person. Then let your words (or your silence) drive the content of the conversation.

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