How to lose control (and like it)

14th September, 2017

Small business owners are largely micromanagers by necessity, but as the business grows, those who don’t find a path away from control end up doing more harm than good.

One of the key reasons people go into business for themselves is because they don’t want to call anybody boss.

In the early days, they’re taking on pretty much everything under the sun out of necessity.

READ: Are you burning the midnight oil?

This leads to some truly long days, feeling like the whole world is on their shoulders – but at what point does necessity become addiction?

HR expert and psychologist Eve Ash told The Pulse there was a simple way to find out whether a business owner has too much control of their business.

“That’s where one person is so integral that if they’re not there, the business struggles to function. If too much is dependent on the central person’s okays…that tells you something,” she said.

As businesses become larger and more complex, the need to delegate and bring on new perspectives becomes even more acute.

READ: Are you killing the business you love?

Even if a business leader is a human dynamo, they’re only one person. The business will become so big that they can’t cover everything.

“If things start slipping and falling through the cracks you’ll feel more stressed and people around you will be frustrated,” said Julie Haslam, founder of The Downtime Agenda.

She’s seen plenty of examples of small business owners who have been pushed to the brink.

She said there were two things driving business owners who struggle with the concept of delegation.

“I think it’s both ego and fear,” said Haslam.

“I know that there are some control freaks that are ego-driven and don’t want to let things go because they believe their way is the best way.

“Then there are others that just absolutely want the best for their business…a sense of fear that nobody’s going to have the same amount of passion that they have.”

Ash said the concept of control could even become addictive.

“People who are good at organising like to be in control. If they’ve done that and succeeded early on, it feeds that need for control,” said Ash.

So how do you give up some control, if you feel you’ve become hooked?

It’s about feedback

Both Ash and Haslam said it was inherently difficult for some control freaks to realise that they are control freaks.

They can see that they’re stressed and overworked, but they feel they have to.

Often it’s when there’s a crisis that they start to realise that their need of control has become a problem.

“I think a lot of business owners run at such a pace that if somebody in their family gets sick or there’s an accident – they then don’t have extra capacity to manage that,” said Ash.

Ash said the people around them have a role to play by engaging the business owner in a respectful and mindful conversation about it, and then offer practical help.

“Just saying ‘I’ve noticed that you’ve been very tired’ or whatever…you just find the words to do that. Be direct but sensitive,” said Ash.

“Have empathy for the person who’s grown a business and driven it.”

It could be as simple as asking ‘are you okay?‘.

Forming new habits

Haslam said it was about outlining the benefits of delegating and letting go of some control of the day-to-day running of the business.

“When a person has started a business and it’s their idea, then it becomes difficult for them to think that there’s others around them that can do things at the same level or even better than they can,” she said.

“I think they need to see the benefit in it, and be encouraged to trial it to see that benefit.”

Benefits could be business-related, such as the positives of new perspectives or the creativity unleashed when not bogged down in the day-to-day; or they could be personal such as extra time to spend with their family and decreased stress.

She said trialing new behaviour such as switching off the phone at 9pm was about creating different patterns.

It very much depends on the individual involved, but forming a new habit based off repeated behaviours can take anywhere between 21 days and three months – and it’s a concept that’s heavily in dispute anyhow.

Regardless of how long it takes to form a habit, people need to begin somewhere and the only way they’re going to trial a behaviour for an extended period of time is if they see some sort of benefit in continuing.

“I think with anyone it’s about giving them all the of the benefits so they can see there are reasons for them to do it,” said Haslam.

“It’s a conversation.”