The Power of Choice: You Have More Control Than You Think

Leadership Skills Training

Loss of control, or perceived loss of control, is one of the biggest causes of stress and anxiety. Feeling as though you don’t have options leaves you feeling trapped. It’s a stressor that’s particularly prevalent in the workplace where workloads, deadlines, and the actions of colleagues can leave you feeling turbulent.

Human beings crave certainty

Certainty is what makes us feel safe. Feeling as though you’re not in control equals uncertainty which equals fear and panic. As a leader, there will be many things you won’t have control over and you’ll likely experience uncertainty much of the time. So how can you prevent the fear and panic part? By practising emotional agility

You might not realise it, but the power (of choice) is in your hands. Maybe you can’t control the overall situation, but you can always control you and your behaviour. Recognising this can lead to a significant reduction in stress.

As a leader, you might encounter any of the following:

  • An employee’s resignation
  • Conflict between two colleagues
  • A dissatisfied client
  • A colleague’s aggressive response to feedback
  • A change to company structure

None of these situations are within your control. But here’s something that is: Your reaction to all of the above.

Your immediate and initial feelings towards the above events might be ones of internal stress. 

Taking the example of an employee resigning, you might experience a slew of worries. Why are they leaving? Were they not happy with the company/role/team/me? What if we don’t find a replacement quickly enough? What if we can’t find a replacement at all? Can we manage without them? How long will it take to onboard a newcomer? 

These questions and this worry is normal, but it’s important to recognise that the stress you’re experiencing here is due to feeling out of control. 

However, the truth is that you can’t be in control of everything at work. Leader or not, you can’t control others’ actions. You can try to influence/motivate/inspire/guide but ultimately, their actions are up to them. Just as your actions are up to you.

Back to the employee resigning, you can to do one of two things:

You can either:

  • Choose to ruminate on why they’re leaving; run through the above questions in your mind; resent them for leaving you with lots to sort out; worry about how you will sort everything out.


  • Choose to accept that workplace departures are a fact of life and business; that this person is entitled to leave; that while it might not be ideal, with a plan in place, you will get through it. 

The key word here is choose. You have a choice of actions / behaviours. Therefore you are in control.

Of course, coordinating thoughts, feelings and positive actions is easier said than done. Our inner autopilots might lead us to react defensively or ignore the situation entirely (AKA our fight or flight response). But once we recognize that this is going on, we’re able to stop, think, bypass our inner autopilots and react in more rational and helpful ways. 

The takeaway here is to remember the following:

  1. Fear and panic about uncertainty is a normal, biological and evolutionary response.
  2. Just because you worry about the future, doesn’t mean the future is going to be bad.
  3. You cannot control what others do, only what you do.

Once you become more aware of the above points, you’ll become more aware of your reactions and behaviour. Most importantly, you’ll become more aware of the power you hold and suddenly situations won’t be as bad as they originally seemed. 

. . .

At Questline, we help senior leaders and managers thrive through award-winning leadership coaching training. Our experiential learning programmes help leaders develop self-awareness, awareness of others and lead more effectively. 


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