Control vs. Influence

Written by Christine Martin

Six years ago, Darrell posted the tweet below, and it’s still just as relevant today. If anything, it’s even more relevant now as organizations undergo digital transformations.

Most companies now realize they need to digitize to remain competitive, but the question is how to do that. There’s no magic formula, and every organization is different, so it’s essential to focus on what you can control and influence the rest; rather than trying to control everything. This may mean working with other companies or institutions to advance their digital transformation goals. But ultimately, everyone must be moving in the right direction if these efforts are to be successful.

After all, you can’t force people or other organizations to change, but you can try to influence them.

Learn to Influence Others

Many believe controlling everything around them is the only way to success. However, this is only sometimes possible and is often not the most effective approach. Instead, focus on honing your ability to influence those around you. When you learn to influence others, you can achieve your goals without controlling everyone and everything around you. 

“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.” ― Daniel H. Pink

It is natural to desire a particular outcome and then work to achieve it. Control can be advantageous, but it comes with a price tag that can eventually surpass justification. Trying to exert control over too much can cause one to lose control entirely; the amount of effort required to maintain control grows to exceed the ability to improve the situation.

Control Leads to Problems

The misplaced need for control leads to various problems, for instance:

  • Stifling Growth. Some environments need to be uncontrolled to grow. When a community expands, costs associated with maintaining control will eventually hinder further growth.
  • Community Suppression. When an individual place demands on an ecosystem, other community members will either step back to let them do things or back away from conflicting ideas.
  • Lack of Resilience. Rigidly controlled systems may be robust but will fail when conditions change, or control points are not fully understood.

The challenge with influence is that it is far less predictable than control. As a result, the rewards that come through influence can be incredible.

“Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire teammates and customers.” — Robin S. Sharma

Control vs. Influence Example

Twitter is an excellent example of the effective use of influence and poor use of control.

Successful Influence – Twitter has exercised limited control while allowing the community to create new features. Retweets (RT) and direct messages emerged from the community – they merely made tools that helped users do what they already were doing. Arguably where Twitter acts to influence its community lightly, it grows.

Control Failure – In the early days of Twitter, the community expanded rapidly. Thus tools and apps were created and made Twitter grow faster. Then Twitter exerted control on an ecosystem and nearly died. Twitter was inconsistent and destroyed successful partners by limiting access and developing competitive features. This failure still impacts the Twitter community. Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, apologized in 2015, and they continue to struggle to rebuild the developer community.

A Power Function

Influence is a power function – we can influence far more than we can control. It can help you to achieve your goals, build better relationships, and more. In many ways, Darrell’s philosophy is what guides successful digital transformations. By focusing on what you can control and influence, you can make changes that will ultimately benefit your organization. So if you’re embarking on a digital transformation, keep Darrell’s words in mind and focus on what you can control and influence the rest. It might just be the key to success.

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