To err is human. To forgive, divine. But to have a good chance to detect and correct mistakes, you need controls. That’s what I have learned in my audit career.

A control helps you understand if a transaction or business process completed completely, correctly, and timely. It is designed to answer the auditor’s most probing question: “How do you know?”

The term itself is jargon, and isn’t widely understood outside of accounting, finance, audit, and compliance circles—unless you are pulled into an audit of some kind as a subject matter expert. One of my bosses used to say all the time, as a joking impersonation of management, “What is a control?” (It would be silly to say that joke killed, but we all got it.)

Of course “control” has a slightly different meaning in everyday language. I think most people want control over their lives: freedom, autonomy, and independence; and also, somewhat paradoxically, stability and predictability. As societal norms and expectations shift, and political, environmental and economic pressures escalate, the present feels more and more uncertain over time—it is literally out of control. As a counterweight to that, a lot of people long for strong leaders who promise to exert control by force of will, or just by force—in other words, authoritarian control.

The problem is that all leaders, both good and bad, know that it is easier to assert that things are correct rather than to actually correct them. In the business world, the same kind of situation applies. An executive can say that a company is doing everything it can in certain areas, but without controls and transparency, there is no way to know if such a statement is true.

On an individual basis, we can’t control everything that happens in our lives. What we can do, however, on an everyday personal level, is to implement the controls (in the audit sense) over what we do and the decisions we make. These can be gaurdrails and double-checks as simple as The Golden Rule and Measure Twice, Cut Once. Just ask yourself sometimes: How do you know if what you’re doing is right?