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On the surface, control is attractive. As a manager, the feeling of control can give you security, certainty and eliminate uncomfortable ambiguity from the task in hand. It can help you to feel strong and warm inside, on top of things and, well – in control! It’s nearly as good as endorphins and yet, at best, it’s short term sticking plaster to use with others to deliver results. It’s never a permanent or sustainable solution. It doesn’t get the best out of the team, it damages relationships with your reports, rarely put the customer at the centre and stifles innovation.

The impact of control can be worse than this too. What you as a manager see as control, your team member may experience as overcontrol. This is likely to be an unpleasant experience for them. It may be that they experience your management style as someone who:

  • Doesn’t share information. Their hunch is that, consciously or unconsciously, you believe this would dilute your power
  • Can be very prescriptive on how you want a task done, directive and reductive in the way you tell them how to do the task
  • Is difficult to approach and often stressed, as you seem to believe that everything must come through you.

Here’s some feedback from leadership courses I run about how people feel when they are overcontrolled at work:

  • Small
  • Like they are operating in a vacuum, without context, adequate communication or scope to do their work well
  • Frustrated, annoyed and resentful.

This is what they would like to say to their overcontrolling manager:

“We understand that you are the boss, and that the ultimate decision resides with you. But we cannot offer our best thinking if you keep us in the dark and instruct us on how to do our job without enough information, or enough scope to use our judgement.”

Connection not control is the answer.

Many of us can slip into overcontrol, perhaps when under pressure or on the receiving end of overcontrol ourselves.

Here are some tips for when this happens:

  1. Recognise when you are doing it. What’s the precise situation? Ask yourself – in this moment, what useful things is control giving me? Be honest about the positives for you.
  2. Ask for and accept feedback about when the impact on others. Ask people one at a time. Knowing that it can be negative for others can be a great motivation to change.
  3. Reflect and ask yourself some questions. These could include – is there a different way I can achieve the result I want, where I can behave in a more respectful and less controlling way with others? What skills do I need to develop to achieve this?
  4. Name the problem with your whole team, and tell them about how you want to change. They will find it much easier to broach the subject with you in future, if they know you would genuinely like things to improve.
  5. Allow a solution between you to emerge. It’s surprising what can happen when your shared experience of control can be acknowledged.

Follow these steps and you will be developing skills in creating connection with your team, not control. That’s when positive emotions appear, the magic of a team can happen, when the whole delivers more than the sum of the parts. Creativity can increase and performance improve. It’s likely everyone will be happier too.

And if you want your manager to ease back on control, turn these tips round the other way. Choose your moment to offer feedback on the impact of their control on you.

Gill How specialises in leadership development. She loves to work with populations of managers to help with a shift in capability and results over time. Recent feedback from “Growing Your Leadership Edge” in Uganda with SparkSync valued Gill for these qualities:

Honest – Brilliant – Principled – Open minded – Knowledgeable – Achiever – Controls her emotions – Very hard working and committed – Focused – Confident – Intelligent – Accommodative – Goes the extra mile.

If your organisation would benefit from Gill’s skills, please contact her here:



Gill How

Helping leaders grow, step up and deliver outstanding results

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