When he turned 10 months old, my Bernese Mountain Dog Gabe became completely impulsive and difficult to control on a leash. He loves dogs and people and he wanted to exuberantly greet everyone who came near. He’s also over 100 pounds and is very strong.
My response for 3 years was to work harder and harder to control him. Shorter leash, martingale collar, constant training. It worked quite a bit and he matured, but my desire for control never ebbed.
One day, just before his 4th birthday, a friend and dog-trainer asked if I’d ever considered walking him on a flexible leash (“a flexi”). I was horrified. If I had difficult controlling him on a 4 foot leash, how could I ever manage him on a leash that could extend as much as 15 feet?
She thought he’d respond better if he and I weren’t constantly in a tug of war. She loaned me a flexi, and we went for a walk on her road. Gabe gradually understood that he had more freedom to roam, and he meandered along the roadside. He didn’t pull one time, and he came eagerly back to me each time I called him, and I rewarded him with a treat.
That was more than 6 months ago. Now we walk only on a flexi and he is as well behaved as I could ever want. I watch him go off a bit into the woods on the side of the trail or stop and smell the things that only dogs care about, and then he comes back to me. The relief for both of us is amazing. Many times, after he’s had his fill of wandering, he settles down next to my side and walks along with me.
It seems to me to be a metaphor of how we business owners often react. When there’s stress, we work to have more control. The greater the stress or the challenges, the more control we want. I have done that myself many times over my 22 years in business. I’ve worked with services firm owners who wanted me to help them get control over the problems they are facing.
They want to know:
- How can we limit the damage?
- How can we make sure that doesn’t happen again?
- How can we protect what we’ve already gained?
And so on.
Many times, the answer is not to exert more control but to stop trying to control the difficult situation. It’s not that you don’t do anything, it’s that you change your mindset from control to innovation, to alternatives, to a fresh way of looking at the situation.
One client, Bryan, was a stickler for time sheets. He kept one for himself that accounted for every minute of his workday and he insisted that all his staff do the same. Some did, and some did not. Those who didn’t seem impervious to Bryan’s orders.
I asked why he cared so much, and he gave me reasons: efficiency, accountability, invoicing, planning. And finally, “that’s what we’ve always done, and I don’t know how I’d understand our business without time sheets.”
The understanding part I totally get. The Owner or Chief Executive does need to understand the business in order to prosper. Without understanding what is going on today, one can’t plan for tomorrow.
There are so many better ways of getting that understanding. It starts with Strategy and strategic statements and requires that every other element or asset of the company be in line with the strategy. Time sheets have nothing to do with strategy, with knowledge and expertise, with delivering value (not deliverables) and with innovation and creativity that leads to growth. Time is only about time; not what happens in that time.
Bryan agreed to work through our LADRSM (Leverage Assets to Deliver Results) with me to better understand his company. He saw how his emphasis on time sheets did nothing to improve his brand, his clientele, and his leverage.
Over about 7 months, as we methodically studied the company and brought many insights and strengths to light, he relaxed about time sheets. He eventually agreed to test Value Based Pricing with his best clients. The response was overwhelmingly positive. He was amazed. And he committed to a gradual phasing-in of Value Based Pricing for all clients and all services.
He and his firm gained so much more by letting go.
What are you trying to control? And what could you gain by letting go?