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The Control Freak Manager

Thu, 03/25/2010 - 4:11pm
Martin Seidenfeld, Ph.D.

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Many managers are control freaks. When a project is running behind and a deadline approaches, over-controlling managers tend to intensify their grip. They stand watching over the shoulders of their employees, putting in their oar here and there with a suggestion or a command, impatient and demanding. Employees feel that squeeze, and it doesn’t feel good.  

Many over-controlling managers can’t really help themselves. Because of their own background and training — or lack of training — tightly controlling every aspect of every job might be the only way they know. They may have never worked for anyone else, or only for others who were themselves super-controllers.

It is true that if your organization is very small, you might really need to have a hands-on approach to every aspect of your work unit to keep it moving forward and keep your clients happy. In situations like that, owners and managers can only feel comfortable when they know exactly what is going on in every department, down to the finest detail.

But if you are involved with a larger organization or specific work units within a large organization, your inability to cede some control and delegate some responsibilities will hold back or even strangle the organization — and your own career advancement.

At some point in their careers, many over-controlling managers come to recognize the danger of their control-freak management style. It starts to become clear that if they don’t learn to surrender some of that control; they will soon bump their heads on the advancement ceiling, blocking their chances for further growth. They come to see that the organization won’t grow and realize its potential — and neither will their employees.

For most control freaks, the hardest part about letting go is simply doing it. Control freak managers are usually proud of all that their work teams have accomplished, and they fear that things will spiral out of control the minute they loosen up and let others function more autonomously. But in fact, the actual letting go feels good, and positive results usually come quickly.

For some over-controlling managers, the underlying problem is that they don’t know how to delegate effectively. Instead of delegating properly, they simply let go and dump a project on an unprepared employee. That employee, not knowing just what is expected to him, is apt to mess up; thereby confirming the control freak’s conviction that he personally needs to control every step of every process.

To delegate successfully and with confidence you must follow these steps:

  • Pick the right employee — one who is capable of doing the job.
  • Use the delegation of a task or project to motivate the employee to do his best and thereby increase his/her value to the organization.
  • Explain the task to the employee, answer his/her questions and concerns, and get his/her input about how they believe the task could best be performed.
  • Specify just what their responsibilities will be and what authority they will have.
  • Establish clear limits as to what resources they will have at their command and what limitations on resources they must not exceed.
  • Confirm the employee understands by getting feedback and setting up a schedule of review sessions to make sure that the work is coming along OK.
  • Be available to help the delegate solve problems when they arise. 
     

You will know you have successfully combated your inner control freak when you have the chance to observe a group of your employees to whom you have delegated a specific project. You will notice that they are all busy and engaged and much involved with doing various tasks — and you don’t really know precisely what it is that they are doing — and still feel OK about it. Then you’ll know: you have brought your inner control-freak under control. 

There are tremendous benefits to sharing the reins of power. First and foremost, there is improved employee morale. Employees grow to think like owners or managers and take greater pride in their products and services. Even allowing your employees to have direct contact with customers — including internal customers – pays off in a number of ways. For one thing, the workers involved probably know as much as you do about some specific project. And the customers feel, rightly, that they are talking to the people who can really make things happen the way they want them to. This increased customer satisfaction can have immense long term advantages for continuous improvement and innovation. 

Another major payoff for easing control is that you experience less stress as you stop striving to know about and control every aspect of every job: it’s just too much. It can give you time to just relax — and still know that the organization is functioning well in your absence. Letting go can produce a huge sigh of relief, a tremendous weight lifted off your shoulders. 

Exerting less ongoing, immediate control means being able to spend more time away from day-to-day concerns. This leaves you more time to think about the big picture, and that translates into more time for long term planning and for focusing on individual employee development. You’ll have time to coach employees who need a hand, to motivate employees who seem lackadaisical and to tend to little problems before they become big problems
How can you change your functioning so that you're no longer a control freak — but you still have every reason to be confident that things are operating as they should? Here are a few ideas: Together with your employees (or at least your key employees), make a bulleted list of the steps your organization needs to take in order to share the control and management of its day-to-day activities. Having their input will make the plan theirs as well, making the changes an easier “sell” to them. Decide who will be the best person to take over each responsibility, and why. Make sure everyone has the training they need to take on their new roles.

As the actual owner or manager, what you choose to do or not to do as part of that plan will speak volumes to your employees in terms of their futures as well as the future of the organization.

Be realistic: major change is evolutionary. Allow time to properly plan and implement your changes. By moving forward at a comfortable pace, you and your staff will have the luxury of being able to analyze mistakes constructively, identify how to correct and prevent them, and revise your plan on the go. 

As you institute these changes your employees will feel better and your entire organization will benefit. A control-freak no more, you’ll like yourself better, too, and that may be the biggest payoff of all. 

 

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