Model of Control

My grandson invited me to help him with a model on Christmas day. He is only beginning to learn to build them, and, as a result he brought all of his attention to the project. As I took the role of assistant, I realized that we were each engaged in living out the third of the qualities of an emotionally healthy workplace, the quality of control.

The first two qualities of an emotionally healthy workplace were subjects of previous newsletters: The Power of Purpose  and The Challenge of Change.

In this newsletter, I would like to focus on three important aspects of gaining control in an emotionally healthy manner: establishing an environment for each person to have control, staying within my own “center of focus,” and persevering when problems arise.
My grandson got his first models to build this Christmas. It did not take long after the flurry of the gift exchange for him to pick up the model and ask if he could work on it. These are conditions that would be ideal in the workplace. Imagine what could be accomplished if workers were eager to work on the next project. Can you appreciate the power in a workforce that would be eager to learn?

The potential for this power is available at every work site, but often goes untapped. When supervisors, managers, executives or owners choose to micromanage a project, the power of the worker is dissipated. When employees resist opportunities for growth because they are afraid to fail or they have become cynical about the workplace, everyone loses.

And when supervisors and employees do not have the tools they need to succeed, the positive emotional energy cannot be harnessed.  I needed to make room for the enthusiasm my grandson brought to his project. It brought back memories of many hours I spent building models in my childhood. I was careful to remember that I learned a lot from each new project I undertook in my model building career. I wanted him to take the lead, so he would begin the process of learning. My job was to gather the materials he required and give him enough guidance so that he would be both successful (in the eyes of his friends) and satisfied (in his own eyes) with the results he obtained.

In the model building project, we each had responsibilities. My grandson was doing the construction, but I was helping to guide by keeping an eye on the overall plan and providing him with what he needed at the time it was needed.

Steven Covey, in his bestselling book, “First Things First,” identifies something he calls the “center of focus.” We have a “circle of concern,” he writes, that encompasses all the issues that matter to us. Of those issues, we have a smaller number that we can so something about. Covey describes this as our “circle of influence.” The most effective use of our time and energy, however, is in what he describes as our “center of focus.” In the center of focus, our actions are directed toward influencing those issues that align with our mission or purpose in life, and are timely. In the workplace, micromanagers and cynical employees do exert influence. That influence rarely improves the quality of the work being accomplished and certainly poisons the emotional health of the workplace.
A good supervisor acts within his or her center of focus; he or she acts as a great coach to help his or her employees explore and excel on a new project. A great coach takes time to learn what will be necessary for success and provides the tools that will be necessary. This could involve putting together a team with complimentary talents that will ensure a positive outcome. It may involve both cheerleading and holding the team accountable. It could include teaching some important skills.

And it means supplying the necessary tools, including space and time, for the project to be completed. One interesting definition of a coach is, “a coach is someone who gets you to do things you don’t want to do so that you can become someone you want to be.”
The center of focus for the employee is to bring all of his or her talents to bear in accomplishing the task at hand. In this context, I am speaking of talents as innate or inborn abilities. Human beings differ from each other in remarkable ways. Some people have a love for precision. Others are happiest when they are socializing with new people they have never met before. Still others are always planning and considering how to solve problems.

These inborn tendencies can be turned into skills by training and effort, but the talents exist before the training. Talents are what the employee brings to the workplace. They are indispensable to the success of any organization.

In all projects, even fun activities like building models, there are points of frustration. It is hard to underestimate the importance of perseverance as an element of success. Optimism and the willingness to persevere have been shown to be more important to success than intellectual ability. If we are really serious about improving an emotionally healthy sense of control in the workplace, it is necessary to be effective in establishing a willingness to persevere.

Perseverance is not an easy quality to cultivate. As human beings, we have a tendency to pay too much attention to short term outcomes, at the expense of the bigger picture. At the same time, humans have a great capacity to think about the world and about our work in a bigger framework.

Maintaining our ability to see the long term outcomes we desire is an essential quality in cultivating perseverance.
Allowing room to make mistakes and learn from them is a second essential ingredient. It is easy to give in to discouragement when tasks are not yielding the desired results.

If we give up, we also give up control over our own future. When we persevere and allow ourselves to learn, we benefit from the effort and the probability of success skyrockets.

My grandson successfully built his first model on Christmas day, 2001. He was able to be proud of his accomplishment. He established an environment in which he could feel in control. He stayed within his own center of focus on the task. He persevered through the challenges and learned from his early mistakes. And he is ready to move forward to his next challenge. What would it take for your business to have a similar result?