I have to admit, my yearning for control often outweighs my yearning for a better world. My visions are large, but my daily interactions are laced with an urge to put things in nice orderly lines and boxes.
My ‘shoulds’ outnumber my ‘what ifs?’ Literally. I use the word ‘should’ promiscuously (I had been doing this quite unconsciously for a long time, but a coaching session with my friend Gerardo Sierra, made me more aware of this). In an effort to shift this pattern, I’ve gotten into the habit of stopping myself mid-sentence, just as I feel the word ‘should’ beginning to take shape on my tongue. I take a second to notice the direction my thoughts are leading me and then quickly search for an alternative way of expressing my intention. Although it’s a small thing, I’ve found that it has really helped me to observe my need for control and to slowly begin to curb it.
Struggling with my need for control – my inner bureaucracy – in this way makes me wonder how social purpose organizations can work on keeping their own rigid and controlling tendencies at bay. Control always involves reinforcing things as we know them, quite the opposite of the energy that is needed to craft the world anew. Social change requires a certain wildness of spirit.
One of the ways we can create space for this wildness to emerge is by being conscious of and questioning the energy sinks that weigh down and bind our organizations. Here are a few examples that arose during some interviews I was involved in several years back:
“An outcome of my work is that they got rid of their fundraising committee. The committee wasn’t doing anything. It was dead. People felt they had to be there. There was no goal. Why did it exist? It gave people something to participate in, but wasn’t effective or engaging.” -Fundraising coordinator
“I helped to dissolve the advisory board- it felt like a weight on the organization’s shoulders that needed to be lifted- the group had lost its spark- people were participating out of a sense of duty rather than out of a feeling of connection and inspiration.” -Program coordinator
“I think I’ve finally convinced my colleague to do something other than paying bills. He was so unhappy in that role, but didn’t consider the fact he could do something different. Just the other day he told me that he has been doing a lot of thinking and has decided that he would like to coordinate the publications.” -Director
These examples may seem mundane, but, in my experience, confronting what we have come to take for granted as a fixed part of our organizational reality is rare and difficult to do. In retrospect these structures and committees seem small, but when we are living in them, they feel large and immutable. We tell ourselves subconsciously, “We’ve worked this way for so long. There must be a reason for it.”
I’m wondering if there is a regular practice that organizations can adopt to remain conscious of tendencies towards control and rigidity so that they can respond before becoming too calcified – what would a collective version of the practice that I’ve been using on myself look like?