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4 Telltale Signs You're a Control Freak and How You Can Get off the Freak Show

by Thuy Sindell, PhD. and Milo Sindell, MS.

How do you know when you have become a control freak? A great indication of this not-so-complimentary badge of honor is when your team starts calling you some variation of “(Insert Your Name Here), the Control Freak Show” behind your back.

Control freaks are all around us — you might even be one too. Though the motivation for control comes from a myriad of sources, the wake of frustration and annoyance created by the uber control freak is the same. Whether fueled by fragile or over-inflated egos, an overt fear that others are out to get them, inability to trust others, or simply unable to delegate, it’s annoying to be on the receiving end.

So what’s wrong with seeking to control all that you can? In the context of the work-place you will demotivate employees because you don’t give them opportunities. You may undermine your image as an up-and-coming leader because you demonstrate an inability to delegate. Worst of all, co-workers won’t want to collaborate with you because you can be bossy, too demanding, and don’t play well in the sandbox.

The common justification of the control freak is they want to make sure everything is as good or as successful as possible. It’s one thing to be concerned and make sure things go well. It’s another to be so over-bearing that you are a cliché…when it’s so predictable to others what your reaction will be. That is, when you take over completely, you lose your effectiveness and damage trust. Yes, you might save the day, but in the end, the residual feeling is one of disempowerment.

So are you one of them? How would you know? Here are some telltale signs:

  1. You tell yourself no one can do it better than you. You think your way is the best way. Yes, while someone may do it differently, in your mind it’s still not good enough.
  2. You justify things by saying you are well-intentioned. You tell yourself that, “I’m only trying to do what’s right/best for the organization.”
  3. You try to protect your team from imminent (and to them unknown) disaster. “My team knows that I care about them. I’m just trying to protect them.”
  4. You justify not delegating by saying, “I don’t want to burden anyone else; it’s my responsibility…”

Does this sound like you? If so, what can do you? Delegate, delegate and delegate. Then let go. Why?

  1. When you save the day as the hero, you are stealing the thunder from your team and others. Instead, step aside and let them shine.
  2. Let your team make mistakes because that is the only way they will grow and learn. You don’t want them to fail miserably, but let them take calculated risks and learn.
  3. There might just be a better way. Perhaps it wasn’t the route you would have taken, but it could turn out to be different, if not better. You’ll never know unless you take the chance.

So what are the steps you can take to remove yourself as the star of the “John Doe Control Freak Show?”

  1. Shift your assumptions and let go of the belief that you are central to everyone. This is the hardest step and may need some soul searching. You don’t need to be on center stage; it’s okay to share the limelight. The world will not come to an end if a mistake is made.
  2. Create a list of top priorities for yourself that are much more strategic and high leverage for your role. Then identify the things you have been jumping into that aren’t so impactful for your leadership level. That is the list of things you want to delegate.
  3. Look closely at your team’s skill set. What are they good at and where do they need to grow? Starting today, delegate the things they are good at. For the areas where your team needs to grow, set your expectations by defining success and creating milestones so that you can check in to provide mentoring and coaching where appropriate. Monitor, but don’t micromanage. Still finding it hard to let go? If your team is not doing something right, point it out and let them fix it. Don’t fix it yourself. This way your team is doing the work, but you still have an eye on things until they gain more skills in that particular area.

Your ability to effectively delegate is what will help you get more strategic and impactful in your role. Being the star of the “John Doe Show” is not a role great leaders strive to achieve.

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