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Control Freak Bosses Are Poor Managers

The compulsion to control at work can be so strong that we rarely stop to consider how much it harms us, our employees, and of course, our business. This is particularly true with respect to micro-managers, nit-pickers, and other control freaks.

In a previous post, Work Control: Five Ways It Harms You and How to Avoid It, I outlined some of the pitfalls of excessive work control and offered some tips on how to let it go.   One of the harms I mentioned was that “Our interactions with others become abrasive and confrontational instead of co-operative and thoughtful.”

Research is now confirming the importance of business leaders’ controlling less, and establishing positive relationships with their employees. A May 18, 2017 article by Rob Waugh in UK Yahoo News, Results Driven Control Freaks Aren’t Always the Best Managers, Research Finds, cites Professor Oyvind Lund Martinsen, head of Department of Management and Organization at the BI Norwegian Business School, as saying that research to date suggests that leaders should focus on being relationship-oriented.   The Professor states:

“Employees expect a great deal of autonomy, that is, influence on their own working day, and to be given the leeway to solve challenges at work on their own…The idea of the ‘slave driver’ manager—brimming with genius ideas—is popular with board members, but disastrous with employees. …This kind of … driven executive who manages the company based on production requirement and meeting goals, is often on a collision course with today’s employees.” 

Let me go a step further. It is my belief that most control freaks (and executives) are, in fact, “poor” managers.   Because they are so rigid and inflexible, they are unable to adapt to the ebb and flow of the “work currents,” putting them out of sync (and likely touch) with what needs to be timely addressed.   When everything is “so important” to them, how can they discern what truly is important?   Consequently, costly diversions of time, energy, and resources become the norm.  Moreover, by being so controlling, they are  “blinded” from spotting potentially profitable paths and choices.   Simply put, excessive control restricts, binds, and limits both at work and at home.

Please Share Your Experiences with Control Freak Bosses 

Have you ever worked for a control freak boss or manager?   What impact did their behavior have on your work production? On your creativity? On you personally? On your co-workers?   How did you deal with the situation?  Were you able to stand up to him or her?  Please share your experiences with us!!

In the meantime, remember to

Let It Go—and Accept What Is 


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  • Evelyn
    Posted October 20, 2019 at 4:32 am

    I am a team leader, a volunteer with a rapidly growing charity. I am also a psychologist who retired from independent practice and this current work seems to be perfect for my skills set provided I am trusted and allowed to go about it in the proper way.

    However, I am now witnessing massive change within that organisation by which volunteers and my team in particular are losing out in terms of failure to communicate with us and withholding of vital training and latterly, blaming us for actually needing that. I am well aware that our CEO displays many aspects of control freakery. I have given up trying to impact on that, and instead I am trying to focus on boosting the morale of my excellent team. Your article is thought-provoking but I do have a question:

    It seems to me that control freaks succeed mainly because others in organisations allow that to happen. In my own case, I have witnessed what I can only call the psychologically enmeshed relationship between the CEO and one of the most senior managers here who also happens to be my mentor and who also, it seems to me, is incapable of disagreeing with CEO’s stance on anything. I know that this manager has lied to me on several occasions (he certainly lies to others) and he knows that I know, and as a result he cannot bear to face me. Nevertheless I must keep communication channels open, I am calm and at least polite, even cordial at times, in order to try to do that. How better to go about it?

    The CEO’s behaviour, dutifully supported by his yes man, has posed a significant threat to the psychological contract between my team and the organisation. I mean to do my very best to repair that and am searching for ways to work around the organisation’s failure to provide them with proper training so that they can continue to do the excellent work they do. Given the paranoia inherent in control freakery, it seems to me that I should go about this openly but make it no big deal. If I am called to task for it, I shall simply say, without being defensive, that in the absence of formal training, we are therefore trying to acquire the skills train ourselves. I’d be grateful for any other suggestions.

    • Post Author
      Daniel A. Miller
      Posted October 29, 2019 at 4:40 pm

      Evelyn, I commend you for taking an even-keeled approach to the problems you are dealing with at your charity. As you recognize, you are essentially powerless to change the controlling ways of your CEO or the subserviency of your senior manager. You are wise not to confront either of them, but accept “what is” and continue to focus on the constructive things you are able to do to make your team impactful. That includes appreciation of your and their talents, contributions, and devotion.
      I may be wrong, but I also sense some anger or resentment on your part, which is only natural with what you are dealing with. If that be the case, it would be good to find ways to let it go as much as you can.

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