Could you be a control freak?

Is it possible you are a control freak – and don’t know it?

I remember running a seminar with a room full of business owners and I asked everyone who was a control freak to put their hands up. A few people put their hands up. Then I said ‘Ok, could everyone put their hands up’ and they did, ‘Now, put your hand down if you’re NOT a control freak’ Most people left their hand up, and the room erupted into laughter. Why? Because anyone in business knows that at times they have had to be very controlling to get their business to operate the way they want it to operate.

So, if controlling behaviour is’ par for the course’ for all business owners when does it become a problem? And how does it affect the rest of the team?

Setting Standards

When it comes to setting standards and demanding excellence, every business owner should be willing to control the outcome.   Setting standards to control the outcome includes; communicating the standards very clearly both verbally and in writing,  putting procedures and systems in place, training staff, training customers and suppliers how to do business with you. It also includes maintaining those standards which may mean consequences for staff who do not comply, or a willingness to sack customers who don’t  fit your business model.

Setting standards is critical to developing a strong brand;  a brand that people can rely on and trust. So what is the difference between controlling the standards and being a CONTROL FREAK?

When Control becomes Unhealthy

When I refer to a Control Freak, I am referring to a micro-manager; someone who interrupts productivity and team efficiency to satisfy their own need to control the process. This person  is motivated by fear.  A ‘Control Freak’ may display the following behaviours:

  1. Unwillingness to delegate. Need to check everything.
  2. Keep butting in, commenting and critiquing work, beyond what is helpful or acceptable.
  3. Overly critical. In every situation, and with every person; you just have to add a few helpful hints that would make their performance better, or the product better.
  4. You are constantly picking up other people’s work that they can’t do, won’t do, forgot to do – in other words, whenever anyone drops a ball you are right there ready to pick it up.
  5. You are working harder than everyone around you.

Inability to Trust

Linked to this internal fear is an inability to trust others. A person who is fearful and lacking trust has become very ‘I’ centric and self-absorbed.  They are no longer thinking of their team as people, but as potential risks that need to be mitigated. This ‘dehumanizing’ process will in turn alienate your team and have then unwilling to help or support you.

a good sign that you are being overly controlling, is that your team don’t take any initiative

Effect on team

Managers may be less inclined to micro-manage if they considered the effect it has on the team. To do this you really need to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine if you were subjected to this typical controlling behaviour:

  1. Every job you did, no matter how small, or repetitive, someone came along and checked your work, and gave a little critique.
  2. Imagine if you were asked to close up at night but then you realised that the Manager was always coming back and checking you had done it properly.
  3. Imagine if you had been given a job to do, but the Manager didn’t trust you enough to give you all the information, and you were forced to keep going back and asking for more information.
  4. Imagine a Manager who never asked you your opinion but just told you what to do.

If you have ever been in this situation you will know that it leaves you feeling worthless, unwilling to take initiative in case you get it wrong, unwilling to put your hand up to do any extra work, and resentful of the nit-picking and  constant criticism.  The end result is a team that actually leaves everything up to the manager, because it is less stressful than the constant criticism and judgement.

So, a good sign that you are being overly controlling, is that your team don’t take any initiative, and they leave a lot of the work up to you.

What to do if you suspect you’re behaviour has tipped over into the unhealthy level of controlling:

  1. Put systems in place. Monitor performance and read your financial reports.
  2. Be willing to follow your own systems. Don’t be a maverick in your own business.
  3. Listen more and talk less. Listen to your team and connect with them in a meaningful way.
  4. Focus on the end result, not how they got there.
  5. Accept that people will do things differently and that’s not a bad thing.
  6. Start being a coach and trainer to your team. Give them new skills and then step back and let them perform.

As always, being a leader of a team can be tough – and we often tread a very fine line between the essential and the obsessive; the helpful, and the totally inappropriate.  Be willing to have a laugh and just give it your best shot.



Carol Hautot