Leading is not easy. There are no unique formulas. Furthermore, we not only start from the same place, because our past experiences and our dreams for the future will shape our leadership style. Some attitudes for leading are more resonant, while others are more harmful for the individual himself and for the organization. Today I will talk about the controlling boss.

Anyone with some work experience can clearly identify this leadership profile (hopefully remembering a past situation, or unfortunately living in the current moment). In any case this is a profile that suffers not only for its own way of working, but also makes people of the team feel uncomfortable, undermining its development and professional satisfaction.

The controlling boss features

  • The Eternal Vocation to work as Technician. Most of the leaders if not almost entirely, have been technicians or administrative professionals before becoming team managers. This makes many of them continue exercising more operational tasks than leadership once they assumed their leadership roles. This is normal because it is what really they master after so long time.


  • The high demand as an engine to produce. Many team managers work in an “high achieving” culture which causes a trend in the company leadership culture. This in itself is not bad; the problem comes when the need to achieve is so high that leaves no room to meet the needs of the people who produce the results. They are controlling bosses who are replicating other controlling bosses from the past.


  • Recognition received for the quality. The performance pattern of controlling bosses, perhaps originated from their childhood, is closely linked to the fact of receiving systematically recognition by others for the things well done. Parents, teachers or influential people at an early age, rewarded with affection, or something material, each time they made things well done, with the consequence of anchoring this pattern in their leadership action logic. This has built their DNA leadership with the belief of taking control of the production process in a perfectionist way in order to gain bosses recognition.


  • Low empathy with the self-realization of others. A very controlling boss is someone who sees only the carrot that he is about to catch and ignores the rest. He does not realize that doing this put against him-self potential allies that could make him get, not only the carrot, but also many more. Often, lack of awareness of what the people of his team are losing with his performance, leads to a decrease in their levels of involvement and loyalty not only with the leader, but also with the organization that allows it as accomplice.

How to disarm a controlling boss

  • Become aware of the real impact on the individual. It is essential that the controlling boss have the chance to look at himself in the mirror to see the negative impact that is generating in his own detriment. This type of leader suffers a lot, because as much as he tries, and it’s amazing to see how he can get on so many fronts, he cannot get to be on top of all things as would like. This will cause him a lot of anxiety that does nothing but increase, as the increase of the number of team members, the increasing complexity of variables to consider, and so on, will put him on the ropes. He can live for a while with the illusion of having everything under control, but this has a very early expiration date. Making a 360-degree feedback, or having a serious and direct conversation with his manager, may be some of the ways to provide a mirror with which assimilating the unintended impact but harmful for the organization.


  • Become aware of the real impact on the people around. A controlling boss does not allow that people perform professionally and show their skills. These leaders are the first to complain about the lack of initiative and proactivity of their employees, when in many cases they are the responsible of it does happen by not giving them enough space to show their skills and learn from their mistakes. Team members must be brave and take risks (measured) to assert their “legitimate control” to their leader, challenging him to distribute game.


  • Reduce time dedication to details. Many controlling bosses control because they have much time to control. Their lack of involvement or interest in strategic issues or establishing relationships causes that some of them go to refuge in their offices to analyze, or to try something that does not concern them. Controlling bosses steal work and professional development their employees. For this does not happen, will be a good help to detoxify them away from those spaces and moments where it comes into too much detail. They can be forced to increase their spaces during the working hours to build relationships, communicating with their employees, creating partnerships with stakeholders, or thinking strategically.

  • Encourage decision making from collective participation. A controlling boss tends to abuse of reporting to ensure that the objectives are being properly fulfilled. During a team meeting is readily apparent one-sided conversation and very guided, where all members report details to him. One way to disarm the controlling boss is changing the dynamics of the meetings, and making them participatory and where the solutions emerge from a consensus debate among its members.


  • Request continuously feedback to their “suffered” collaborators. The controlling boss who really want to stop being so enslaved by his excessive control, have a great opportunity to “use” the people of their team to assist him in his task. Ask them recurrently feedback after meetings one-on-one or in teamwork can be of great help to him. In addition, he will also become aware of the progress made, which will encourage further progress.


  • Reflect about getting back to the technical role. And in any case, the controlling boss always has the opportunity to reflect on his vocation to exercise technically versus exercise as team manager, knowing that both are key to the organization and are very legitimated. Taking the lead in deciding, in a brave manner, which one he really wants to take, with heart and not just with head, it will ensure him greater future professional satisfaction, and at the same time it will prevent the organization to put him in a trouble workplace.


Enric Arola