What I Gained by Surrendering Control

In this series, professionals describe the skills they’re building this year. Read the stories here, then write your own (use #SkillsGap in the body of your post).

Last year, our NBA team, the Golden State Warriors, had a remarkable season culminating in winning the NBA Championship. In the aftermath of this success, I found myself listening to folks who said we were lucky to have won. In my arrogance, I attempted to manage their feelings to drive the emotional response I wanted, which was for them to feel better. Sometimes I concurred that of course we were lucky. On other occasions I would say that it was too bad the other team was unlucky, pointing out the elements that made their season less successful.

One competitor finally told me, “Stop it! You’re not the master of the universe. Accept and enjoy your success. Don’t try to manage me!”

Is surrendering this type of control a skill? I believe it is not only a skill, but an imperative if I am to continue to evolve as a leader.

No matter who you are or how high you are in your businesses’ hierarchy, you do not have the power to manage how your executives, competitors, sponsors, fans, or media interpret or experience something. While you can certainly be sympathetic or empathetic, you can’t manipulate them to feel the way that youwant them to feel. You do not control their emotions. You certainly don’t control the outcome of an event. You control the process that is aimed at an outcome. Trying to manage the feelings of those around you is not part of that process. You are not that powerful. The problem was, I thought I was. And that is not good leadership.

Is surrendering this type of control a skill? I believe it is not only a skill, but an imperative if I am to continue to evolve as a leader.

What I’ve learned is the only thing I’m in control of is identifying the ingredients for success, understanding the process to achieve it, and keeping my eye on the prize. Yet, even with this insight, I still find myself, at times, attempting to manage other people’s emotions.

The Golden State Warriors kicked off the 2015-2016 season by setting a record in all U.S. major league sports history by winning 24 straight games. Did this accomplishment elicit a full spectrum of emotions from all the constituencies in the food chain?


Did I attempt to manage those emotions to result in a particular feeling that I deemed best? No! I was determined to A.C.T differently:

  • Awareness – I had acute awareness that my motivation to manage the emotions of others was driving me into a control mode;
  • Concede – I conceded that I had no control over other people’s emotions;
  • Trust – I trusted that whatever someone else was feeling was their authentic emotion. For me to believe they should mask or surrender it for the outcome I was orchestrating damaged my brand, reputation, and integrity.

As I continue to surrender control over managing the feelings of our diverse stakeholders, I will have more time and energy to maintain laser focus on the culture of the Golden State Warriors, which venerates resiliency, embraces change, encourages risk, and supports transparency in our communications with everyone.  If I stay true to this discipline, no matter our win/loss record, I will have the best chance to achieve and enjoy success.