Keys to Working with an Apparent or Self-Proclaimed “Control Freak”

Changing unwanted behaviors in leaders and decision makers through executive coaching is an extreme passion of mine. I find it to be more rewarding than challenging because it allows me the opportunity to grow with the client, notice or work on my own potential blind spots and most importantly; the journey allows me to have an impact on every relationship my client will have moving forward.

By now we have all come across a “control freak” or two in our lives and careers. The option of simply walking away and ridding ourselves of that relationship does not always present itself and therefore dealing with the issue head on becomes the only available option. But how do you navigate that relationship and create a successful environment? That is the question I am intending to answer in this post.

There is an Old Leadership Proverb that states, “He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is merely taking a walk.” This statement resonated with me when approaching this topic because when I looked back at the difficult relationships brought on by a “control freak” in my own experiences, I never once had the feeling that I was following their lead. If anything, their behavior caused dis-empowerment and made me feel unmotivated. Overbearing leaders think leadership is solely based on control, ranking or position, when at best leadership is grounded by influence. It is influence that inspires people to be motivated and work together to achieve great feats. We can all think of dozens of inspirational stories or events that prove this to be true. As Simon Sinek says, “There are leaders and then there are those who lead.”


If you find yourself dealing with an apparent or self-proclaimed “control freak,” here are some tips to work through the difficult relationship.


1.      Don’t take it personal. Believe it or not, control freaks lack confidence. They suffer from low self-esteem, fear of vulnerability and loss of control. They devalue the people they “lead” because they lack the ability to bring out the best in others, fear that encouraging someone will somehow cause unwanted competition or they knowingly dismiss this important task altogether and see it as useless. They fail to realize that helping other members of the team utilize their strengths will only create cohesiveness and in turn produce greater results. In many cases, control freaks aren’t effective communicators and so they never actually experience their groups true potential.   

a.       Not taking it personal, involves self-control and confidence. Allowing others the opportunity to recognize the error of their ways and destructive presence involves patience and time. Believing in yourself and your abilities to meet the requirements of the relationship help alleviate the tendency to become affected by others blind spots or limitations. At the end of the day, you determine how much and who affects you the same way you choose who or what motivates you. In most careers, results are what matters and if you can produce in spite of the unhealthy environment then get it done! Your un-intimidated approach will scare that control freak to death.


2.      Let them talk. Control freaks often lose focus because they are too concerned with being heard, positioning and giving up any advantages. Control freaks are more interested in knowing that they are being heard and not necessarily listened to. They often think team members aren’t fast enough or bright enough to follow what they are saying but this is obviously no true in most cases. Control freaks are insensitive by nature. Ensuring accuracy, alignment, providing support and maintaining stability are not priorities of theirs. After listening to them, team members feel unimportant and less motivation to perform.

a.      The floor is yours, but I choose what I take in and what I leave out. Learn to funnel the facts and necessary information the control freak is presenting and leave the negativity behind. Everyone deserves the respect of being listened to when they speak but control freaks have a tendency to lose the respect of the team quicker than most.


3.      Leaders must be learners. Control freaks often times believe they know it all or know best therefore they have no interest in learning or considering what others have to offer.  A person unwilling to learn is not a person worth following.

a.      Modeling effective leadership is a way to deal with this sort of attitude. When you model the behavior you’d like to see reciprocated it allows you to gain control over yourself and your emotions. The power of influence is real. Expressing enthusiasm, smiling, empathizing and encouraging others are great ways to cause the control freak to realize you are undisturbed by their behavior. Projecting positivity through tough times is exactly what leadership is about. In other words, teach by example.


4.      Knowledge vs. Care. People are less interested in what you know until they know how much and what you care about. Control freaks miss this point often. Focusing in on immediate results, power, authority, over analysis and criticisms are their blinders. Control freaks are so obsessed with themselves and making their presence felt that they will cause feelings of social rejection, disapproval, incompetence and various other environment killing factors to make themselves seem invincible.

a.      Don’t give in to believing you should not be cared about or acknowledged for your individual skills and talents. Instead care enough to elicit change. Go out of your way to change the environment and be more thoughtful, accepting and optimistic. Show others there is nothing wrong with caring and encouraging others. Somehow we’ve forgotten that it is okay to be human. Knowledge is nothing without an audience to benefit from it.


To sum it up, there are many ways to work with a control freak. Be creative. Success is determined by the person willing to work hardest at it. A control freaks control only has power if you let it. Allow the negativity to motivate you and capture something about yourself that will help you thrive in an unstable environment. Positive thinking and actions are always at your disposal.


Tyrone RobinsonComment