Let us first start with understanding these two phrases – ‘Being in charge‘ & ‘Being in control‘.
Let me make a reference to sports to get the meaning clear.
“The Team Manager just announced that Coach Henry is no longer in charge of his team“. This would imply that Coach Henry is no longer in a position where he is responsible for and leading the team. It is about Henry’s personal role and behaviour.
“The Team Manager just announced that Coach Henry is no longer in control of his team“. This would imply that Henry is no longer able to control the behaviour of the players in the team. This is about the behaviour of the other players.
Understanding this fundamental difference gives us a huge understanding of this fundamental difference between “Being in charge” and “Being in control”.
The Master and his disciple were walking down a busy street. There was a commotion at the far end of the street. The disciple respectfully pointed out to the Master that there was a mad man who lived on that street and that he was responsible for the chaos they were seeing. The disciple informed his Master that the mad man usually carries a big stick and goes around beating up random people walking on the street, for no reason at all.
“Shall we avoid this street and walk down another street, Master”, enquired the concerned and slightly anxious disciple.
The Master listened with his familiar smile of acknowledgment, gently patted his disciple on his shoulder and continued walking down the street unperturbed.
The commotion continued. Soon they started to get closer towards the spot where the man responsible for the commotion was brandishing his stick around at people. The disciple started to get concerned about his master’s safety. He spontaneously started to look around if he could find another stick with which he could protect his master. The disciple felt his anger rising up, “Why don’t the people of this town do something about this mad man once and for all? He is a nuisance on the street.”
As they got a little closer, some other concerned people approached the disciple and urged him to request the Master to walk away. “That mad man would not spare even the Master”, they told him. The disciple knew they were speaking the truth. But he recollected his Master telling him over and over again that he is not responsible for his Master’s safety. And yet today, he could hear the chatter in his mind all over again, “Isn’t it my duty to ensure that my Master is safe? What would be the purpose of Master asking me to accompany him if not to serve him in these little ways?”
Something suddenly snapped inside the disciple’s mind. He had made up his mind. He had to do something to keep that mad man from hitting his master. He remembered that he is also answerable to the other disciples back in the monastery should something happen to the master.
By now, they were hardly a few yards away from the mad man. The disciple stepped aside in rapid movements, looking for another stick to keep the mad man off. “It doesn’t matter if I receive a blow or two in the bargain, but I will teach this mad man a lesson today!”, the disciple thought to himself. “Moreover I will not allow anything to happen to Master.”
The Master, oblivious to the frantic activity running through his dear disciple’s mind, walked on with his calm smile. But in that one moment when the disciple had stepped away from the Master, the mad man rushed at the Master. He was right in front of the Master and before anyone could stop him, he wildly waved his big, crooked stick towards the Master’s face.
The disciple saw this sudden development and froze on his feet. What he feared was about to happen and he couldn’t do anything about it.
But something unexpected happened in that moment. The Master calmly ducked in order to dodge the blow. The mad man’s stick swooshed in the air eluding the Master completely. The mad man turned to look at the Master after his stick had missed the mark. Their eyes met for a brief second. And then both of them turned around and continued on their respective paths, unfazed and undisturbed. The mad man moved ahead and continued brandishing his stick at other people around. The Master continued walking his way calmly.
The Disciple was trying very hard to be in-control of the situation. He was trying to control the environment around him – the mad man, the people in that town and even the people back in his monastery. He believed that the mad man needed to be dealt with in order to ensure that things are alright. But he soon realised, the environment is almost impossible to control.
The Master, however, was in-charge of the situation. He did not feel the need to change or alter the environment. He only had to focus on his needs and he knew what had to be done in order to ensure that things were alright.
How much energy do we spend in trying to be In-Control of our lives? And how much do we spend in trying to be In-Charge of ourselves?