Control Freaks.

articles May 19, 2021

Before the 2021 Rose Bowl, Alabama Coach Nick Saban had quite an answer when ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi asked him for one thing he learned this disruptive year.

“I’ve spent my whole life trying to keep everything in some kind of a controlled mechanism that I thought was going to lead to better performance, better production, more consistency, and this year, that hasn’t been possible,” he said. “There was a time, in my career as a coach, I would have never been able to tolerate some of the things we’ve had to go through. So that has made me better, I think.”

One of the world’s ultimate practitioners of routine handled the complete opposite of routine this year by embracing disruption, focusing on endurance and staying the course, regardless of circumstance.

That’s the problem with control. It gives you a false sense of security.

Let’s admit it. Most audiologists, orthodontists, doctors and lawyers are control freaks. You didn’t get through professional school and training by leaving anything to chance, and so you’ve been reminded and actually rewarded for your control-freak behavior. In the business world, it’s fine to control things that are in your lane. But, too many of us think that we have such great ideas and insight (and we’re the boss, gosh darn it) that we decide to control everything.

I’ve even highlighted such control freak behavior like Jerry Seinfeld’s summary of why his sitcom was so successful, because he “controlled every aspect of every word, every edit, every episode.” Yes, and he was also so burned out after 9 seasons that he didn’t have it in him anymore to write or produce another season.

You don’t have the luxury of practicing for 9 years and retiring. If you want to control the long arc of your career, learn to embrace change, surf the waves of disruption instead of swimming against them and be a little bit more like Nick Saban and a little less like every other leader who thinks they have to control every minute of every day in order to achieve great things.

When asked about Coach Nick Saban, Robert Witt, the president of Alabama from 2003-12 and chancellor of the Alabama university system from 2012-16, said, “I was both pleased and impressed, but most definitely not surprised. From the beginning, since 2003 (when Witt became president), when Coach Saban joined the Alabama family (in early 2007), I have not worked with anyone in my career, and that is saying something, because that career is over 50 years in higher education, who genuinely cares more about the people he worked with, than Nick Saban.”

There’s your million-dollar pearl. As a leader, if you want to endure the disruption that is bound to land at your doorstep, now and in the future, take what you do and attach it to your higher sense of purpose, caring more than anyone else about all the people in your world.

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