What CAN You Do?


As I travel around the country to lead workshops, I often hear frustrations with or objections to some of the supervisory/leadership techniques and approaches that I advocate and teach. I seldom hear an outright disagreement with the general approach. Instead, people express their frustration or objection like this:

“That sounds great, but…

  • “I work in the government.”
  • “I supervise union employees.”
  • “My boss won’t let me do that.”
  • “What if the other person doesn’t respond the right way?”

The first part of the statement implies that people see the general value and validity of the approach, principle, or technique that we are discussing. So, they are not really disagreeing with me. They are saying that they don’t see how to make it work in their situation.

I understand.

When you find yourself in an environment that is driven by rigid work rules (whether mandated by law or contract), controlled by a boss that you have trouble persuading, or full of people who have a history of being uncooperative; it is easy to lose hope and to begin feeling helpless.

You do not have to stay in that mental and emotional state.

Even if the work rules, pressures from your boss, or level of cooperation from your team scream at you about the things that you can’t do, there is still something that you can do. There is always something that you can control.

You can control your words, your actions, and your attitude.

Focusing on what cannot be done is tempting and, in some ways, personally satisfying. It is easy to fall into the trap of letting the things you cannot do determine your actions and your attitude. If you want to make a positive impact on your organization, fight that temptation with everything you’ve got.

Choose to focus on what is in your control. Choose to focus on what you can do. Choose to make the difference you can make. Choose to work on possibilities rather than limitations. When you make that choice, you take control of your situation. When you take control of your situation, you create hope and positive expectation where there was frustration and hopelessness.

While the concept is simple, it is not easy. This choice takes focus, effort, and concentration. While it sometimes requires you to “put blinders on” as you work through the day, the idea is not to ignore problems and frustrations. The idea is to force yourself to focus on the behaviors, interactions, attitudes, and tasks that fall inside your circle of control. When you do that, you can take positive actions to make a difference rather than get overwhelmed and driven to inactivity by things beyond your control.

Focus on what you can do rather than what you cannot do, and you become a victor over circumstances rather than a victim to them.

Your Now Step: Think about a project, relationship, or process in your organization that has been frustrating you recently. Identify at least one positive action you can take in the next 24 hours to improve the situation even if others do not cooperate. Take that action.


  1. says

    Guy – thank you for the encouragement to fight the temptation to do less than we are capable. It is difficult to stay positive in a work environment where we face head winds from many directions, but you are correct, we always control our own actions.

    • says


      Thanks for the encouragement. You’re right, it can be difficult to stay positive, and we still need to exercise control on the one person we can control. I hope my post helps to give you more energy to confront the challenge.


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