10 Ways to Win with Your Control Freak
Show me a leader who isn’t a control freak and I’ll show you a wimp.
You were born a control freak.
The tantrums you threw as a toddler were responses to losing control. You lost control because you lost control. Daddy didn’t give you what you wanted. Mommy said no.
The issue is how you express your desire for control, not the desire itself.
Warnings about controlling:
Control freaks diminish or destroy:
- Ownership and engagement. Everything you control, you own. Engagement requires ownership.
- Input. Control freaks hear what they want to hear because people don’t bother telling them the truth.
- Boldness. Control freaks punish risk-takers with micro-management.
- Themselves. Control freaks die young and unhappy.
The trouble with control freaks is they waste themselves on trivialities.
In praise of control freaks:
Winston Churchill said, “A fanatic is one who won’t change his mind and can’t change the subject.”
Become a fanatic about something big and beautiful.
Come hell or high water, we’re eliminating breast cancer, refusing layoffs during downturns, building positive culture, or ….
10 ways to win with your control freak:
- Release “how,” grasp “what.” Make room for others to design next steps that create forward movement.
- Repeat, “Leadership is getting people doing what they want to do in service to a noble mission.” (Again)
- Hold your complaints when teams work hard and fall short. Ask, “What are we learning?” “What will you do differently next time?”
- Show up when things are going great. Ask, “What’s working?”
- Whisper, “I could be wrong,” to yourself.
- Be strategic. Focus more on long-term goals.
- Allow freedom of method.
- Ask two open ended questions before making judgments or decisions.
- Challenge or eliminate drifters.
- Hold yourself to higher standards than you hold others.
How might leaders channel their inner control freak?
Don’t pick every battle! They are not all worth winning OR fighting.
Thanks ctrappe. Plus it wears you down! Control freaks are often exhausted and frustrated. 🙂 Thanks for the insight.
Great ideas! Number 9 is brief but so important. Number 10 was always my goal (and sometimes my downfall). Lead on!
Thanks Jim. Was number 10 a downfall because you were too hard on yourself?
Sorry for the delay in answering your question. Yes, I was always much harder on myself than anyone else, to the extreme that I felt guilty when I took time off -especially if I was out of town or out of touch for any length of time. I never said “no” to a project or assignment, and I always delivered, but it was burning me out. Now that I’m only working part-time as an academy instructor and management / leadership trainer, I can look back on my 40-year law enforcement career – particularly the last 20 years in Training and Administration- with much clearer perspective. I now try to pass along those lessons learned to the practicing and prospective police supervisors / administrators that I teach. The beauty of hindsight!
Thanks for circling back, Jim. Much appreciated and best wishes
Dear Dan ,
I am not denying the nature of controlling freaks but I want to understand what fear make them to control or why control or 2. energy which is flowing in one direction with a dialogue at least let it come with a fresh air of risk oriented leadership or loosing control on with a positive control.
Are we bargaining on a style or we are in mode of acceptance whatever being said or creating a world where this style wrapped in velvet glove.
3. Controlling kind of breeds was much popular in 70’s now dimensions of leadership are concensus based and example is Nokia , even you can recall last words of the then cep and success model of Microsoft is another example like control with positive firm hand control where creativity alive with innovation or Google is live example.
Even mother nature never control anything belive participative world
This is my opinion only
Thanks Vinay. Hats off to your comment. We may have crossed each other’s paths in the night. We most surely agree about the dark/dangerous side of controlling leadership.
Oh my favourite in you list is: Whisper to yourself – “I could be wrong.” When in doubt, repeat and then ask a question. To paraphrase Dale Carnegie – If you’re write only 55% of the time, you’ll make millions easily on Wall Street every day. Another message I love from Dale Carnegie: Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save face? If he did not ask for your opinion, why argue with him? Always avoid the acute angle.
Instead, save face for myself and whisper to myself “I could be wrong”.
Thanks Jenn. I think willingness to allow others to be right is a tough for control freaks. I’ve seen some people arguing, when it seemed to me they were on the same side of the argument.
Thanks also for the Dale Carnegie quotes. Let people save face.
I’ve been thinking for a few days about the connection of feeling disrespected and the negative experiences in life. I think there’s a strong connection. Successful leaders show respect.
Dan, I would like to respectfully challenge your thinking here. When you begin from a questionable premise and quote Churchill about fanaticism (his contemporaries and other fanatics include Hitler, Stalin and Mao) you traverse shaky ground. When you champion the idea tha a good leader is someone who ‘won’t change his mind and can’t change the subject’ you are promoting a form of leadership that is founded on fascism. Your beginning list about the inherent problems with controlling is actually an argument against being a control freak at all – your second list is a justification for behaviours and ways of being that are associated with immaturity – who wants to remain at the egocentric stage of adolescence? I call on you to revise your view, and ask whether you can change your mind? In my view a leader who can listen to others and change their mind when it becomes clear that they have erred is a much better leader than one who blunders on because they can never change their mind. Sometimes we set out to demonstrate or prove our point of view, such as the premise that if you are not a control freak then you are a poor leader and a wimp when we might be better off beginning with a question. Is it ok to be a control freak?
Cheers from Australia
Thanks Peter. I think we agree on the dangers of being a control freak.
I believe Winston Churchill was fanatical about his cause to see England win. The difference between people like Hitler and Churchill is the nobility of their mission. But, both were fanatics.
I believe there is an element of obsession in remarkable achievements.
You may protest that I’m using fanatical in a positive way when it’s a negative term. Point taken.
I’m thankful for your insightful comment.
I love this Dan! Thanks for writing it. It’s one I wish I had!! I think asking the three whys is a good tool to expose why you’re wanting to control, so you can address what’s really going on.
Thanks Ralph. Your suggestion makes sense to me. Get to the heart of issues, including three or even five why’s.
“Control freaks die young and unhappy!” There is so much wisdom in that phrase. Trouble is you can’t get the control freak to stop and recognize they are unhappy and there could be another way.
Thanks Ken. Those of us who are dealing with being control freaks know the stress we create for ourselves and others.
A positive word for “control freak” could be “Maverick” They are outside the box, looking for a better way to do something, change something or toss it out! Often misunderstood by formal corporate culture and often first to get shot.
Thanks Gary. Your approach softens the blow of control freak. Do you think Mavericks try to control others?
Mavericks definitely want to control, I think their focus is to take the ‘controlled norms’ and blast them out. They are the developers of the New and Improved labels. By changing the norms they do control others, kind of a back door approach.
As a leader of a diverse team sometimes I think I can control people, an illusion of mine. Better to change the environment so that they want to change. Example if i turn the AC on eventually people will put coats on.
Are we really discussing “control freaks” here? Or are we discussing determination and tenacity? There is a big difference to me. Perhaps I am misunderstanding. Can someone help guide me on this one? Great post by the way.
Thanks for the follow-up to your November 30th post Dan! In response to your question of what would I consider as responses to the 7 triggers of Control Freaks Tantrums, your whispering #5 in this post would be a good one!
To take that concept a bit further, whether as a response to your own tantrum or a preemptive approach, acknowledging we are deeply flawed human beings is a good place to start because it breeds a humble approach. And it is considerably harder to be a control freak while being humble. I’m not recommending we all get down-trodden or reduce our self-esteem to the point of becoming an ineffectual leader, but realizing you aren’t all-that-and-a-bag-of-potato-chips can keep the control freak tantrums at bay.
Personally, my controlling nature takes a break and my stress level goes down when I spend time reading the Bible and praying in the morning and throughout the day. It is the ultimate lovingly humbling experience that helps keep me grounded and fair, in both my response to myself and others.
I completely agree that some managers are control freaks. I think that some managers learn from their previous managers bad habits, but the message is lost somewhere along the way in what a leaders role actually is. A “manager” to me is someone who manages a team and follows daily processes to ensures quality of work within the boundaries of that process. It’s easy to slip into the role of being the “control freak”.
However, a true “leader” is someone who liberates others from their bonds of “do what I say” or “you weren’t hired to think outside the box”. Personally, I have become a leader in my field because I am passionate about what I do and I like the idea of being part of something that helps the world become a better place. Because I am passionate, tenacious, never give up, and encourage others to do the same wields the traits that help us focus on the end goal. However, instead of forcing others to do a specific job, I encourage innovative thought and the inventive process. Encouraging people to live just outside their comfort zone is where life exists and grows. By leading in this way, you teach people to liberate the free will of others. In the end, creating potential that can’t be measured, but to constantly climb to a new place.
Now, a control freak is typically selfish in their motives where they don’t really consider others’ opinions. They just get enough energy out of people to fulfill their own objectives instead of focusing on potential.
To be honest, I can’t sit here and say that I’ve never been a control freak myself. Through growing and constantly reinventing myself, I found new ways to channel energy. Watching a team of people becoming inventive in their curious nature is an amazing thing to see. To become part of that team and to channel energy to the collective end goal is truly inspiring.
Yes, I’ll admit it – control freak Jeanne. My freak comes out with a quote from a former colleague “if everyone did what I said, when I said, everything would be fine.” Yeah right – not. What I’ve learned is I don’t have all the answers and other people have critical pieces of the puzzle. Let them contribute.
Thank you, Dan! This is a very insightful article. 🙂