Control the Controllable


Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it – Charles R. Swindoll

A story is told of two men who lived in a small village who got into a terrible dispute that they could not resolve. So they went to the town sage. The first man went to the sage’s home and told his version of what happened. When he finished, the sage said, “You’re absolutely right.”

The next night, the second man called on the sage and told his side of the story. The sage responded, “You’re absolutely right.” Afterward, the sage’s wife scolded her husband. “Those men told you two different stories and you told them they were absolutely right. That’s impossible—they can’t both be absolutely right.” The sage turned to his wife and said, “You’re absolutely right.” The sage controlled how each man approached their dispute by the simple power of agreement. How nice it would be if things really were so simple.

The humor from that story is not lost on CEO’s who look at their prospects for 2013 and how the global economy will affect their bottom line. A recent study released by The Conference Board ( highlights their thinking and how they plan to approach this New Year with a different strategy. The point being, external global economic factors may be out of their control but not everything internally.

In data collected between September and November 2012, over 700 senior executives were asked to identify and rank the most pressing challenges they face, and their strategies for addressing each one. Worldwide, human capital – how to best develop, engage, manage, and retain talent- was named the leading challenge. Operational excellence stood in second place, followed by innovation and customer relationships. This new shift among CEO’s worldwide quite possibly fits the running narrative for your company in 2013.

American theologian Reinhold Niebur penned the words to what is commonly known as the Prayer of Serenity. It reads, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Like many CEO’s worldwide who participated in the survey your plans may have shifted from the uncontrollable to the controllable. The uncontrollable can be difficult to accept, but as you focus on what you can your perspective begins to change. Here are a few tips to help you chart the course and three questions you must answer going forward.

Bloom where you are planted with an eye to the future. What is out of your control now can be a bright spot in your future. Prepare today in order to prosper tomorrow. As you ride out external cycles you can train your talent, develop their skills, and raise up your leaders. When you bloom where you are planted you are putting down roots that will position you for the long term. The future can be promising but only if you are prepared.

Perfect your craft. Well within your control is the quality of your product and how it is delivered. Take the time while you have it to improve quality, delivery, and shore up customer relationships. Now is not the time to stress over things out of your control. Take the initiative and evaluate your systems, streamline for efficiency, and build your brand. It is only as you prefect that which you can control you will be prepared for what is now out of your control.

Create a culture of innovation. The survey highlights how important innovation is to your success. Rebecca Ray, Senior Vice President, Human Capital with The Conference Board said, “As CEO Challenge 2013 shows, human capital is not only a critical function in itself, but is also intimately connected with innovation, operational excellence and other challenges.”

Encourage and promote a culture of innovation with your team. Welcome ideas, reward innovation, and reap the benefits. Remove any and all barriers that stifle create thinking and improvement. Being prepared for what’s next can’t be achieved with narrow minds and lack of vision.

As a leader, you have to answer these three questions: What is out of my control? And then release it. What do I control? And then embrace it. What is the plan? And do it.


© 2013 Doug Dickerson

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About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandson Tyson. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
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