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Anna Smith

In an old episode of the TV show 'Bones', a lab associate commits murder because he follows someone's logic (of course it turns out later that the logic was flawed).
I, too, can manipulate my own actions (temporarily trick employees that I'm in control) by following some sort of reasoning. I have to talk things over with a family member or a close friend to check if my logic is flawed. Quite often it is, but because someone has pointed that out to me, I can avoid killing the morale of my unit.

Hi Bob,

I think this "taking control" business is really dependant upon the situation. If there are employees who are constantly stepping over their bounds and generally not respecting you as a leader, some of these measures may be necessary. I also think that the approach varies by style that the leader is most comfortable with. This may include one-on-one discussion of the behavior or simple "tricks". But you are correct that there is a law of diminishing returns with this before you become an asshole. So its a balancing act.

All in all great post.


My take:
It's not about control, but about responsibility.

I think most of us run away from responsibility, not only in our work, but in our lives because we're afraid of uncertainty. We reach the point where we even say: "you're not motivating me enough" which implies that I'm not responsible of my own motivation. (or we say "you didn't tell me", "it's not in the manual", etc).

With an unbalance in the responsibility (power?) like this, of course you need someone in charge.

I think that a good leader would fill the "responsibility void". I also think that a great leader would encourage her people to take the responsibility (and power that comes with it) back.

Kelley Eskridge

Bob, great questions, as always.

I believe that control is an agreement, like most everything else in a relationship. I used to lead a major department of a large corporation, and now I lead a small nonprofit organization, and it's pretty much the same equation. They put me in charge with the expectation that my expertise, focus, and attention could shape the daily process and the long-term results; and they allow me to lead with the agreement that we will all make it possible for me to exert that control.

The moment I give up overall control to someone else, or to the random forces of fear or dithering or chaos or peer pressure, or whatever, I have abrogated that agreement.

Collaboration, facilitation of consensus, involving others in decisions that affect them -- these things are part of control, not its antithesis. These things allow leaders to make better informed decisions, and make it possible for the team to continue in their expectation of, and agreement to, the control.

Controlling a team is like driving a car. The whole machine can work wonderfully well, but if no one's at the wheel... Who's driving is either an agreement, or it's a car crash.

Whenever I work in a situation where someone else is in the lead, I want that person to assume control. I agree to trust them to have a notion of where we're going. I do not want to have to backseat drive all the damn time.


This is a subtle and powerful point. I think the question is confidence versus authority, rather than being "in control". I believe people need confidence that a leader has a vision or direction, and that they are capable of making the decisions, where warranted, to realise it. I believe it is also about confidence that a leader can keep their promises. I am not so sure that it is about control or authority per se, and perhaps confusing authority with confidence is one of the symptoms of power poisoning.

I look forward to reading the other comments.

Christian Fey

I would argue that despite the fact that most individuals don't wish to "take control," the ideal manager needs to do just that. That doesn't mean simply giving the impression you are in control, but really making sure your subordinates understand that in fact, you are in control. Any task given to you in any level of an organization is done with (generally) the expectation that you are in control of exactly what you're doing. So, if you are the leader of a team, simply "acting" as though you're in control is not enough. This makes the conversation almost a moot point in that by simply acting in control, you intrinsically don't understand that you, in fact, are there already.

Fostering an environment of discussion and dialogue is a great method of encouraging fair play in teams, but the reality is that in the end, it is up to the manager to determine the course of action. That may simply mean saying yes to someone's suggestion, but at the end of the day, the control is inherently in the position. Understand that your position, however, is not a permanent one. By overbearing your employees, you will ostracize them and generate bad feelings toward you, but most people understand that the decisions must, in fact, be made; and you are the one who must make them.

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