The idea of surrender and letting go of control may seem counterintuitive for a book on leadership. If you’re like me, you’ve been told that you control your destiny; that if you work your plan, your plan will work. These types of sayings and societal memes permeate our identity and can become the measuring stick of success. You end up believing, even if unintentionally, that these same concepts equate to your ability to control a situation. And, this control is linked to your results.

But how many times has your life unfolded exactly the way you wanted it? I’m serious. Think about every aspect of your life: work, family, friends, finances, health, and home to start. How much of this was truly under your control? Has your career, your job roles, the people who’ve worked for you, the people you’ve worked for, how many of these things have ever gone the way you hoped? Not much of my life has gone as expected.

Nonetheless, I found myself attaching to my results in an unhealthy way. First, as a high school student. During this time in my life, I learned to plan backwards from a goal. And yes, I reached some of those goals, even if seemingly small in comparison to my present day.

Then, in college, as the stakes grew higher, I planned and planned some more. More success came…more proof to me that I had control over my destiny.

I believe planning, strategizing, and goal setting are important and positive behaviors if they are aligned with the right mindset. But for me, what began to develop was an attachment to outcomes giving me the illusion of control.

From as early as I can remember, I’ve been described as the proverbial control freak (although a recent assessment revealed, I don’t really want to control anymore but I do enjoy being in charge). This control nature of mine kept me from enjoying life on many levels. My need for control took various forms; from healthy planning to unhealthy coping mechanisms, control marked my life. And looking back, I can more clearly see where this need to regulate all of my experiences served me well.

My whole family fell apart when I was in elementary school. Around fifth grade I noticed my mom was gone a lot only to later visit her in the mental health ward of a hospital. Later, my parents would divorce and with my mom struggling for appropriate care (mental health treatment was a lot different in the 1980’s) while my dad figured out how to pay bills and run a business in her absence, us kids were lost in the shuffle.

During this same timeframe, I distinctly remember my parents taking me to a local park to play. By the time my sister was done playing and it was time to go home, I had just warmed up to the idea and was crushed that we had to leave. Two hours had passed. I was not ready to go to the park when everyone else was and I was just getting used to the park when it was time to leave. And while this is a simple, childish example, it stands out to me as an adult to this day.

So much of what happens to us as children is out of our control and we develop coping mechanisms to deal with each of these situations. Our coping mechanisms made sense at a young age but cause us pain as adults because their application is no longer working. And how do I know something is no longer working for me? Pain in my results. My entire world crumbled so no wonder I developed a keen sense for governing my surroundings. But like many childhood mechanisms, this control became maladaptive as I progressed into adulthood.

As an adult, this controlling nature made attempts to control things that cannot be controlled, like other people, places, and things. But I didn’t know how to tell the difference for many, many years.
In my school leadership role, I attempted to control everything, from my task list to other people’s perception of me-and only one of those things is actually within my control. Directing my tasks brought me career success but attempting to augment the perceptions of others? That created years of anxiety. So, life, circumstances, and other people have a way of challenging the need for control and either we learn and grow or remain in pain.

Now, this is a book about leadership, and you may be wondering what in the hell surrender has to do with leadership. Please think in your mind about any work situation that is not at all what you want it to be. Or think of one from the past. Tap into your feelings of helplessness and rehearse in your mind all that you did or are doing now trying to control that situation to obtain your own preferred outcome. Make sure you choose a situation that, like mine, despite your best efforts has only gotten worse. I’m talking about the situation that makes you want to spit, yell, and quit all in the same sixty seconds. I’m talking about that boss who repeatedly displays an inability to lead, who makes empty promises, is “obviously” not qualified, and drives you up a wall. Think of the situation at work that deep down, you know you have no control of.

Yeah. That situation.


See, we all face circumstances in our lives that do not go according to plan resulting in an array of outcomes. Some of those outcomes range from mild inconvenience to complete and total disaster. On the positive side, those outcomes could also run the gamut of “according to plan” to unimaginable positive results! We rarely need help with the second kind. More than likely, we need a little more help with the undesirable side of these things.

Getting on the surrendered side of a situation gives you the space you need to act in alignment with a servant leader mindset as a whole. As long as you are in control mode, your thoughts and options are limited, thus limiting your results.

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