Dear Dan: Help People Who Work for a Control Freak

Dear Dan,

How do we help people who work for, or are recovering from working for, a control freak?

Many of our leaders have controlling impulses, which has helped them get to their positions of authority. Sometimes there is no win/win with a controlling leader. Is the only option to walk away?


Looking to help


Dear Looking,

We’re born with a need for control. Take a favorite toy away from a two year old and you’ll hear the voice of a young control freak.

Even the strategy of ‘letting go’ is a form of gaining control.

Partial control:

If you want to help people who work for a controlling leader, explore the topic of partial control.

The things you try to control are often partially within your control. Relationships, interactions, employee performance are partially within your control.

Explore control:

Make a list of things they would like to control/change about their controlling leader. Stop interrupting might be on the list. Possible follow-up questions:

What could you do the next time your leader interrupts you? Answers might include:

  1. Interrupt them.
  2. Listen quietly and return to the original point when they are done.
  3. Accept that they are going to interrupt you and let it go.

What would you like to do the next time your controlling leader tells you how to do your job? Answers might include:

  1. Do it their way and be happy you to have a job.
  2. Calmly thank them for their input and explain what YOU plan to do.
  3. Explain that your strengths are different from theirs. If they want top performance, you need to leverage your strengths.

The above responses might not work, but executing on planned responses takes back a bit of control.

Stay tuned for more suggestions.



What suggestions do you have for someone looking to help people who work for a controlling leader?

Source: “The control freak not only asks all of the questions, he answers them all too. He’ll give you advice even when he has no expertise.” Bob Sutton on