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Grabbing on for Your Life: When Should You Unleash Your Inner Control Freak?

Although it is both fashionable and politically correct to credit teams for our success, I think it is short-sighted and potentially foolish to underestimate the time-saving advantages associated with the focused attention of a single mind. Leveraging the great power of a single mind gives us incredible speed, breath-taking decisiveness, crisp ethical insight, access to the subconscious, extraordinary intuitive leaps, and the added bonus of internal consistency. 

Lillies in a Glass Vase by John C.

Drew, Ph.D. Oil on 11" x 14" canvas.

In a practical sense, however, it is important to know when to apply the power of a single mind and when to back off and let the group do its part as well. In my experience, it is quite helpful to unleash your inner control freak at key moments in the grant writing process. 


For example, at the earliest stages of the grant writing process, I'm very picky about choosing and sticking to the winning theme for any particular charity and proposal. Once I've made up my mind about why the funder will choose to fund any particular grant, then absolutely nothing will shake that belief loose except for the arrival of completely new evidence or an entirely different competitor. In someways, it is easier to be a control freak at the earliest stages of a project since - at that point in the process - it is not so inconvenient or expensive to simply resign if others disagree with your vision for the overall grant project. In practice, I am open to all kinds of innovative suggestions throughout the grant writing process, but I will only include those suggestions if they further the key winning message I have established earlier in the process.


There is also a lot to be said for exercising absolute and total control of the grant writing project at the very end of the project too. This is particularly true as you get down to the final hours and minutes before the application is completed and delivered to the funder. As Kevin Wiberg, a consultant trainer for The Grantsmanship Center, notes it is particularly important to keep control of the final product

Reserving control over the final product means reserving control over the assembly of the final package, with all attachments and all forms. (I've seen someone who wasn't all that engaged in the process keep right on photocopying a proposal after a page folded over.) I watch every page go through the copy machine on the first round. So should you.

In my consulting practice, I am the last one to look at the final grant application. I reserve the right to control the final product to make sure that we are answering the funder's questions, that the key documents are in the right order, and that we are following the funder's submission requirements to the letter.

Finally, I am a stickler for high quality research. This is often a bone of contention with employers and clients. In my experience, I think it is unethical to make an argument or assert an idea unless you are certain that you are backed up by the facts, especially scientific research which shows that your take on the problem is correct and that your proposed solution will really work. When I worked for other people as an employee, I was sometimes fired after I discovered that a cherished idea at the employer's non-profit was actually little more than a myth. Surprisingly, I was lucky enough to find work with those who valued by intellectual independence and my ability to sort through a tangled mess of research to figure out what was really going on. 

In a lot of ways, it is easier to be a fearless advocate for the truth when you are working as a consultant. As I like to say in my workshops, I still do the same things that used to get me fired. Now, however, they usually like what I have to say and they invite me back for more. 

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