Tag Archives: control

What Control Is and Isn’t

As many of you know, about 4 weeks ago, we were gearing up for the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Congress. (We had a record-setting crowd, and many exciting, unexpected moments including the Archbishop Curley High School drum line and Loyola jazz band.)

If there is one thing that I have learned about managing a project or event it is this: Figure out what you can and cannot control early. Otherwise, you will either try to control everything–and alienate everyone around you–or you will control nothing–and stress out everyone around you.

And then there is this humbling revelation. You can’t really control anything. Not really. You and I don’t hold all of the strings to make anything happen the way we want it to. The most you can hope to do is influence a decision, person, or situation in such a way that the outcome you intend takes place.

A few examples.

At the 1999 National Catholic Youth Conference in the RCA Dome in St. Louis, I was the staff person who had overall responsibility for it, and as we were waiting for participants to start coming into the dome to get ready for a keynote, the wave of people was only a trickle. So, I hurriedly got myself to the main doors, and discovered that the dome security staff was forcing everything to walk up to a higher level, then down again to the floor of the dome, rather than just walk straight through to the floor. After some ineffective back and forth, I just “pulled rank” and said, “I pay the bills. Now open those doors.”

Funny thing is, they could have completely ignored me. I looked about 12 at the time, but they didn’t. Not one of my proudest moments, but one in which I felt I needed to take control.

For the current work that I do, I have a very skilled and gifted team that I work with. And when it comes down to it, I generally “sit in the circle of equals” and contribute like everyone else. It’s a more collaborative experience, and we each respect the knowledge and decision-making authority that we have.

One of the hardest things for me to watch these days is when someone tries desperately to grasp for control of the situation around them and hang on by a thread. By doing so, we often hurt the people around us (intentionally or unintentially), gather to ourselves decisions that aren’t ours to make or for which we do not have the experience and/or knowledge, and put distance between those who are willing to support us in our efforts.

The Gospel for the 1st Sunday in Lent reminds us that God is in control of our lives ultimately. The decisions we make and the control we have is only there because of the gifts that God has given us. When we horde or overstep, we inch farther away from God. As this Lent unfolds, check whatever hunger begs you to grab control. And create or join a circle of equals in your ministry or workplace.

Just When You Think . . .

UniverseJust when you think you have the situation under control, the Universe throws a wrench into it.

I was reminded of this today as I indulged in my daily, very guilty pleasure of watching reruns of Gilmore Girls. The episode entitled “The Incredible Sinking Lorelais” ends with Mom and Daughter both crumbling under the weight of the expectations they had set for themselves and what reality actually delivered.

Both business and ministerial situations do that — throw wrenches into our best laid plans. The measure of a good leader is how we respond.

We can let it break us, turning us into blithering idiots who direct the anxiety and stress outward and project it on to others in the form of anger, authoritarianism (pick your favorite form of autocratic behavior.)

Or we can pent up all of that frustration and energy, and inflict needless pain on ourselves in multiple forms of destructive behaviors, the least of which is staying awake for unnecessary hours trying to fix things.

Or my favorite option (in theory, not always in practice) — breathe . . . and let the Universe reveal where that proverbial “wrench” is intended to take us.

If you have ever planned a meeting, only to watch and listen as an agenda topic takes an unanticipated turn, there’s the wrench. Though my preference would be to get the discussion “back on track” (whatever that means!), we can learn a lot from these detours or changes in direction — not usually large things, but small ones.

What new thing did you learn about the perspective of a committee member? What obstacles or issues were named or hinted at that you hadn’t considered before? What paths and options are opened up now that this conversation has taken place?

I admit — this doesn’t work in all situations. But sometimes letting the Universe lead the way — and facilitating that as best you can — can uncover concerns, questions, issues, solutions, directions that had not be considered before.