Just Say No to Your Inner Control Freak

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“Project management is God’s gift to the control freak.” — Unknown.

Just Say No to Your Inner Control FreakA forceful personality can provide certain advantages in a competitive workplace, helping you work your way up the ladder more quickly than you otherwise might. But fair warning: if your favorite management slogan is “my way or the highway,” expect a few delays in your drive to the top.

Granted, you can survive with this attitude, especially if you’re a genius or use less-than-scrupulous tactics to advance. But nobody loves a control freak. Your subordinates will never you give you 100% if you disempower them, hover over their shoulders, or constantly disparage their abilities or judgment. They’ll either resent you or will get so nervous they won’t be able to do their jobs right. And if you’re always in their business, you won’t get your own job done, either.

Perhaps you, like me, have suffered under a micromanager in the past. I’ve known others who have left jobs because of them (they quit the manager, not the organization). They’re inescapable—and you certainly don’t want be one. Control freaks in leadership positions constrain creativity, drive depression, and kill camaraderie.

But perhaps there’s a part of all of us with micromanager tendencies. Do you:

• Resist delegation.
• Obsess over details instead of monitoring the big picture.
• Retain all decision-making power.
• Feel compelled to constantly check in with your workers.
• Leave your own work undone while “fixing” everyone else’s.

If you recognize these characteristics in yourself, you can’t let your inner control freak out, or you’ll just drag down your team’s productivity. Start with these pointers:

1. Listen. Start taking the opinions of your teammates seriously. Don’t just assume you know better than they do about everything. We all have our inspirations and ideas, and success comes easier when you leverage other people’s experience, skill-sets, relationships, and creativity. You don’t have all the right answers.

2. Talk. Get to know your team members on a personal level, so you can better understand their motivations. Speak to them openly and demonstrate that you value their roles in achieving your organization’s strategic goals.

3. Let go. Leadership shouldn’t be about holding onto every tiny bit of power. Yes, you’re loaded down with responsibilities; but your leaders expect you to pass on much of your workload to others—so do so. Within the limits of their authority, let your subordinates delegate some of their duties. That helps make everyone accountable for the success of the team.

4. Get back to work. As a leader, you have a duty to provide direction, set priorities, and work toward alignment with the rest of your organization. If you try to do that and everything else, you won’t be able to do any of it well. Start trusting people to do their jobs—checking back occasionally to ensure they do—but otherwise focusing on your own strategic priorities.

Just Like Smoking

Some experts say you can’t fix a control freak—that micromanaging is the natural outgrowth of a stingy soul, eager to take advantage and claim the accomplishments of others. I’m not sure this is entirely true; I believe stress can drive otherwise ordinary people into the micromanaging straightjacket, especially if their own bosses micromanage them. At some point, I suspect micromanaging also becomes addictive, hard to shake even under the best of circumstances.

But once you recognize the problem in yourself, you’re one step closer to fixing it. Even if you believe it’s against your nature, try to implement the solutions I’ve outlined here to break free of your inner control freak.

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