Do you tend to do things yourself rather than delegating tasks to others? Do you prefer that work is done the way you like it done rather than letting others find their own way of doing things? Is it a rare occurrence that documents and reports submitted for your review come back with few comments? Do you need to know all the details rather than being comfortable with an overview? Do you find it necessary to push your agenda most of the time? Do you think you are usually “right”?

If you answered yes to some or all of these questions, you just may be a control freak. Someone who has a strong tendency to want things his or her way and who prefers to know (or direct) what will happen next in any situation. That personality trait has probably served you well in many respects. However, especially as you move up in the ranks and have responsibility for managing people, your inner control freak can be just the thing that will derail your advancement.

Having a need to control can have a number of negative consequences: you may be seen as not being a team player; people may assume that you don’t trust them or see them as competent; you may be the bottleneck to executing work and making decisions; you may be viewed as overbearing; you may be seen as a micro-manager; and you may miss opportunities to develop collaborative relationships.

So how do you tame your inner control freak? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable – much of the need for control comes from a fear of ambiguity and loss of power. By taking steps to expose yourself to situations that are not in your control and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in other ways, you can experience ambiguity and uncertainty in a safe manner. The more you practice, the easier it will be to give up control in many aspects of your life.
  • Seek input and truly listen to it – if you approach a problem or task as if you do not have all the answers, you’ll be more open to hearing ideas and accepting input. When you have an idea, spend a lot more time asking questions and soliciting feedback on your idea and a lot less time advocating for how great your idea is. And when someone is willing to give you input, close your mouth, listen up, and resist the urge to defend or discount.
  • Strive for imperfection – Control freaks often have “perfectionist” as their middle name. They can get bogged down in getting things precisely right, and of course, precisely the way they want it. To be less controlling, let good enough be good enough. Pick which battles you will fight and allow some things to stand as they are. Do you really have to change that one word in the report your employee submitted to you for review?
  • Make building trust a priority – The big problem with being a control freak is the perception that you don’t trust anyone other than yourself. When you constantly insist on having things done your way, you send a message that any other way is wrong. Is it any wonder that your employees lose their motivation and give up trying to share their ideas and opinions?
  • Praise many times and correct once – Providing large doses of positive feedback will help control freaks to notice all of the great things other people are doing. When you look for what’s right rather than focus on what’s wrong, the need to direct and control becomes a lot less important.

For another perspective on control and how great organizations strive for effective order instead to get the best results, check out this blog post from strategy+business.

In what ways have you tamed the control freak in you?
Please leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

For help in letting go of your need to control, contact Robyn at

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