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If It Doesn't Work, Stop It!

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler
2016 17 May

a yellow butterfly approaches some flowers

Imagine that you have made it your goal to get butterflies to fly in formation. How beautiful it would be if they could fly together like a flock of birds. You begin modestly, attempting to get one butterfly to fly in a straight line. Enticing it with nectar seems to work, so you try it with a few more butterflies. You pick the most successful of these and attempt to get them to fly in a straight line together. But as soon as you release your star pupils, everything devolves into chaos, with butterflies flying in every direction. Still, you’re not willing to give up because you can envision how great it would be if they could only learn what you’re trying to teach them. Every day you perform the same trials with the same frustrating results. After a while, you find yourself disliking the creatures you once cherished because these pesky insects won’t do what you want them to no matter how hard you try.

The point of this far-fetched example is that our efforts to control circumstances and people are often as misguided as the scenario I’ve outlined. We want children to behave perfectly, employees to perform flawlessly, and circumstances to unfold as we think they should. But our oversized efforts at control produce the same frustrating results. Perhaps it’s time to realize that if something is not working, it may be time to stop doing it.

According to Edwin Friedman, who is associated with family systems therapy, the most effective leaders focus on managing themselves in the group rather than focusing on how to manage the group itself. Such leaders strengthen the organization by staying connected to others without allowing themselves to be sucked into the anxious, emotional processes that often swirl around them. By doing this, they are able to lead from the inside rather than by trying to coerce others from the outside.

If you feel chronically frustrated at home or at work, ask yourself whether you may be trying to exert a level of control that is unhealthy and unwise. If the answer is maybe or yes, try redirecting your energy, asking God to show you how to manage yourself in the midst of challenging people.