5 Questions to Determine if you are a Controlling Leader

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The life altering words, “Dad, can I do it all by myself?”, sent shock waves down my spine.  I found myself frozen in a state of mental denial. No was the only word that invaded my conscience and rested on my tongue.  Don’t get me wrong, I was confident that she had the ability. But the word yes was placed on a rocket headed to the Moon Jupiter.  I tried to find every reason and excuse to say no.
No! Not today. Maybe tomorrow.
No! I need to test it out first.
No! Your mom would prefer you not to do it.
No! I need to research it more.
No! I am not sure if all the safety protocols were completed.
No! I think a hurricane is headed this way.
No! Aliens might kidnap you.
With every no that bounced through my head, the reason became more and more absurd. But as I stood there, staring into those heart melting, green eyes, I knew that the only answer was . . .  yes!
There is something within all of us that desires to control. If you are a parent you recognize the sometimes agonizing journey of controlling less and letting go – allowing your kids to embrace the adventure and dangers of this world.  Sometimes it just seems easier to reply with the word no. But in the leadership context, the simple reply of no can crush your team into believing your focus is purely control.
Have you worked for a controlling leader?  If you have ever worked for a controlling leader, you know how suffocating and frustrating of an experience it can be. Progress is slow and ownership over a project, a strategy, or even leading staff is extremely limiting. A much more difficult question to answer is when you ask yourself, “Am I a controlling leader“? The goal of a leader is to build a team of leaders, paint a clear picture of where the team is headed, and then empower each person by releasing them to execute. But if you are not intentional, personal ego, insecurity, and perfectionism leads to controlling decisions. And controlling decisions can easily make the leap to position a leader to be controlling. The more you control, the less production you will achieve. The more you control, the quicker gifted leaders will disperse and followers will emerge. The more you control, the greater staff turnover you will encounter. The more you control, the greater the reality that your dream will not come to fruition.

Are you a controlling leader?

  • Controlling leaders dictate specific actions, masking as team decisions.
  • Empowering leaders clearly sets guardrails for the team to lead within, and then gets out-of-the-way.
  • Controlling leaders start from a place of suspicion, questioning motives.
  • Empowering leaders start from a place of confidence, trusting motives.
  • Controlling leaders hide behind subjective statements, positioning the conversation for personal gain.
  • Empowering leaders highlight objective statements, position the conversation for team gain.
  • Controlling leaders keep the goal unclear in order to manipulate the desired outcome.
  • Empowering leaders clearly articulates the goal so the team can achieve the desired outcome.
  • Controlling leaders strive to build a team of followers so that they can be the sole owner.
  • Empowering leaders strive to increase ownership by building a team of diverse and driven leaders.
  • Controlling leaders hold on to power. limiting the teams ability to lead.
  • Empowering leaders releases power, expanding the teams ability to lead.
  • Controlling leaders divide the team by positioning people against each other.
  • Empowering leaders unite the team by intentionally keeping people working together.
  • Controlling leaders think that their ideas are the best and only viable ideas.
  • Empowering leaders embrace that the team possesses the great and differing ideas that have the ability to achieve the end goal.
Are you a person that leads by controlling or empowering people? The reality is that every one of us have the propensity to control.

Five Determining Questions

1. Can the team articulate the win? 

If the team doesn’t know what the win is, what they are trying to achieve, then you are controlling the outcome. Every person on the team should be able to quickly and succinctly be able to articulate that the win. As a leader, all you have to do is walk around the office, with a cup of coffee (optional), and ask each person this question: “What is the win of the team”? The clearer and more consistently you communicate the win, the more you can let go and empower your team.

2. Whose ideas are being implemented?

At the end of a discussion or brainstorming session, write a name by every decision or idea being implemented. How many different names are on the list? If the predominant name is yours, then you are controlling. An empowering leader will spend the vast majority of time listening and asking questions with a resolve to surface the best ideas from the team.

3. How frequent is your staff turnover?

There are many different factors that leads to an organizations’ staff turnover rate. I am cautious not to over simplify this thought in just several brief sentences. What I have discovered is that when a leader empowers the team, pay scale issues, work hours, and strategy frustrations are minimized. And when a leader is controlling, these issues are magnified.

4. How do you feel when the team doesn’t latch-on to your idea?

When the team rallies around another idea, how do you respond? Remember that your reaction is not just verbal. People are watching your non-verbal cues as well.  Take a personal assessment and ask trusted team members to give you feedback.

5. Are you measuring overall performance or individual tasks?

A leader that hyper-focuses on specific tasks or components of a strategy, is controlling. Period.  Leaders that empower team members always focuses on the end goal and the milestones leading to that goal. They are not concerned with the specific steps

A Bold Step of Leadership

Once you have taken an honest assessment of yourself, sit down with your team, either individually or as a team, and ask them these questions. Sit. Listen. Create a safe environment for them to share openly and honestly. If you lean into the conversation, you will discover a controlling “blind spot” in your leadership.

It is important to always remember that you can quickly spot out controlling and empowering leaders. Actions, not just their words, always reveals whether they are controlling or empowering leaders.  All you have to do is watch a person lead and you will quickly determine what type of leader he/s is.
And remember, your team is watching you and they have already determined what type of leader you are.
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4 Comments

  1. Great Word Pastor Chris! Huge insight on the difference between controlling and empowering…I have also realized that you can control being the only one who empowers, rather than allowing the team to do some of it amongst themselves. Good Stuff Sir.

    • Manny – Great insight. It is is easy to hide behind being the only one who “empowers” the team. A leader’s true security is revealed by his/her willingness to empower leaders to empower others leaders.

  2. WOW, Chris great article. We miss your smiling face at the local coffee house and hearing you teach here in south FLA. We are praying that life is taking you where you can reach your full Potential. We will be checking in on you from time to time.

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