Over Controlling in Leadership

In the fast-paced world of leadership, the desire to excel and drive success sometimes result in a bad workplace habit: over controlling. Many leaders, with the best intentions, often find themselves adding too much value to their team’s ideas and initiatives. However, what seems like a well-intentioned effort to enhance outcomes may actually hinder creativity, ownership, and commitment within the team.

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What is Over Controlling in Leadership?

Over controlling leadership refers to the tendency of leaders to excessively interfere in the work of their team members. This inclination is actually a manifestation of the desire to win at all costs – which is particularly common among individuals who have achieved a certain level of success.

In essence, leaders often fall into the trap of consistently injecting their personal opinions into all work-related discussions. Regardless of the situation, they feel compelled to provide answers to the challenges faced by their employees.

  • Are the team members struggling to define their professional development goals? I can provide them with valuable ideas to implement.
  • Do they find themselves unsure about the next steps for an ongoing project? Here are some insightful suggestions for them to consider.
  • etc.

In the minds of many leaders, their primary responsibility as managers is to alleviate obstacles, solve problems, and chart a collective path forward for other members. Whenever approached with a question or issue, their immediate instinct is to find a solution without delay.

While it is essential for leaders to offer their insights and perspectives, excessive involvement often results in unintended consequences. By reframing the concept of over-controlling in leadership, we gain a deeper understanding of the impact it can have on individuals and teams – plus the importance of striking a balance between providing guidance and allowing autonomy, fostering a more effective and empowering leadership approach.

Signs of Over Controlling in Leadership

Effective leadership requires a balance between guidance and empowerment. For this reason, it is crucial for managers to be aware of the signs of over controlling. Here are some key indicators to watch out for:

  1. Overemphasis on expertise: Instead of encouraging the growth of team members, you tend to provide solutions without allowing them to develop their own capabilities.
  2. Lack of attention during meetings: Multitasking and not giving your full attention to other members during discussions can hinder effective communication and diminish their sense of importance.
  3. Prematurely closing discussions: By interrupting and shutting down conversations too quickly – without giving everyone an opportunity to express their opinions, you discourage open dialogue and diverse perspectives.
  4. Micromanagement tendencies: Excessive control and a lack of trust in your team’s abilities may lead to micromanaging their work, hindering their autonomy, and promoting a sense of distrust.
  5. Criticism without constructive feedback: Failing to provide constructive feedback or recognition for your team’s efforts can demotivate them and prevent them from learning and growing.
  6. Discouragement of creativity and collaboration: Imposing rigid guidelines and stifling creative thinking and collaborative efforts can hinder innovation and limit the potential of your team.
  7. Favoritism within the team: Treating certain team members differently and showing favoritism undermines team morale and creates a sense of inequality.
  8. Resistance to change: Inability to adapt to new situations or challenges hinders organizational growth and prevents your team from embracing new opportunities.

If you identify any of these signs in your own leadership style, it is crucial to reflect and reassess your approach. Being a “control freak” is a common reason for a toxic work environment, leading to low morale, productivity, and innovation.

Over Controlling Leadership – The Pitfalls of Adding Too Much Value

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you eagerly lined up to hear a manager speak – only to be bombarded with a string of disconnected ideas? It’s as if the management simply verbalizes whatever thoughts come to their mind – without a clear and cohesive message. You feel frustrated to have invested the time and attention, only to end up not gaining any valuable insights at all.

Similarly, have you experienced the disheartening scenario – where every time a team meeting unfolds and someone presents a brilliant idea, the team leader can’t resist overshadowing it with their own perspective?

Not only is that “control freak” undermining the roles of other team members – they are also publicly dismissing the idea’s viability. Such situations are incredibly discouraging, as they leave people with the impression that only the leader’s opinions seem to hold significance.

For individuals who have achieved a certain level of success, it can be challenging for them to listen to others sharing information they already know – without immediately responding with statements like:

  • “I already knew that”
  • “I have a superior alternative.”
  • etc.

This instinctual reaction stems from the belief that they possess greater knowledge and insights than others do.

over controlling in leadership

Overbearing leadership style

Over controlling in leadership hampers the creation of value within teams and organizations. It stifles the exchange of diverse ideas, limits collaboration, and undermines the growth potential of individuals. By recognizing the pitfalls of over-controlling leadership, we can foster an environment where all perspectives are valued, leading to more fruitful discussions, innovative solutions, and a stronger sense of collective achievement.

Reasons for Over Controlling in Leadership

The tendency of over controlling and adding too much value partially stems from the command and control leadership style – which used to be extremely popular (even recommended) in traditional workplace environments. Even though things have changed since then, countless managers/ organizations find it hard to abandon the old management approach. Rather than empowering team members to take ownership, they prefer resorting to micromanagement – believing that this would ensure the highest quality of deliverables.

Aside from that, leaders nowadays often find themselves succumbing to this bad workplace habit due to a combination of reasons – including:

  • Confidence in having the solution: Having climbed the ranks to lead a team, leaders possess a certain level of expertise and proficiency. This self-assurance prompts many of them to believe that they hold the answers to all problems that arise within the team.
  • Talented member syndrome: In various cases, leaders are those who have excelled in their respective fields, earning recognition for their abilities. Consequently, they tend to have opinions on how work should be approached and executed (i.e: the desire to “run the show” and make sure that things are done in the way they want/ think they should be).
  • Self-expression and usefulness: Offering personal input allows leaders to express themselves and feel a sense of usefulness. By actively participating and providing guidance, they believe they are fulfilling their role and contributing positively to the team’s progress.
  • Innate desire to help: Leaders often possess a genuine desire to assist others. When confronted with a problem, their default response is to provide a solution, driven by their instinctive inclination to support and guide their team members.

It is crucial to recognize that, in the majority of cases, leaders do not intentionally engage in excessive interference simply to showcase their own pride. Rather, their over controlling reactions stem from deeply ingrained instincts – which they are sometimes even not aware of.

Let’s consider the following conversation:

Employee: I am streamlining the logistics process to ensure that we can manufacture 100 accessories by Saturday.

Manager: Excellent! That’s great news. With five days remaining, let’s aim to produce a minimum of 20 accessories per day. Since packing tends to be time-consuming, let’s increase your quota to 25 per day. This way, you’ll have some extra time to spare.

Here, the manager swiftly offers a solution – even though the employee never explicitly mentioned encountering a problem. This situation begs the question:

How can the employee develop independent management skills – if the manager consistently guides them without allowing autonomy?

Occasional conversations like the one described in the above example may not immediately cause problems. However, if such interactions become frequent, they will eventually contribute to a work environment where employees habitually seek solutions from their leaders, even when fully capable of resolving issues on their own.

By recognizing these underlying factors, leaders can take proactive steps to foster an environment that encourages independent problem-solving, autonomy, and self-reliance among their team members. This shift will result in a more empowered workforce and greater overall productivity.

Consequences of Over Controlling in Leadership

Many leaders find comfort in assuming the role of the “host,” orchestrating and directing every aspect of their team’s endeavors. However, this approach hampers the growth and development of the team in various significant ways.

While it may seem intuitive that constantly contributing to the improvement of work is beneficial for the team, the reality tells a different story.

Now, imagine a motivated employee eagerly entering your office to share a fresh idea, brimming with enthusiasm. Instead of responding with a simple acknowledgment like “Great idea,” you reply with something like,

“That’s indeed a great idea. Have you considered incorporating this additional tactic?”

What should be the result of this seemingly innocuous interaction?

Unbeknownst to you, you unintentionally diminish the employee’s enthusiasm. While the quality of the idea may have increased marginally by 5%, their initial enthusiasm takes a significant hit – dropping by a staggering 50%. The idea no longer remains their own – it becomes assimilated into your realm of ownership.

In essence, the performance equation can be expressed as follows:

Performance = (a) Quality of Idea x (b) Enthusiasm for Implementation

Often, our fixation on enhancing the quality of an idea overshadows our commitment to fostering and nurturing the initial enthusiasm behind it. We inadvertently “break” the employee’s dedication to the idea, leading to suboptimal performance outcomes.

To cultivate a more conducive work environment, it is crucial to strike a balance between refining the quality of ideas – and preserving the genuine enthusiasm and ownership of team members. By recognizing the potential consequences of over-controlling leadership, we can empower our employees, inspire innovation, and foster a culture of shared ownership and exceptional performance.

Read more: Taking Credit for Others’ Work – A Detrimental Habit

over controlling leadership

Avoiding destructive smart-person behavior

Letting Go of Control as a Leader

During a transformative coaching session, esteemed executive coach – Dr. Marshall Goldsmith – posed a question to JP Garnier, the former CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, that sparked profound insights:

“Since I became your executive coach, what have you learned that has had the greatest impact on your leadership?”

In response, JP Garnier shared an invaluable lesson that not only made him a better leader – but also brought greater happiness to his life. He revealed that the coaching journey had taught him the significance of pausing before speaking, taking a deliberate breath, and asking himself,

“Is what I’m about to say truly worth saying?”

Through practicing this simple act of conscious breathing before speaking, Garnier realized that approximately half of what he had intended to say was better left unsaid. Despite his belief that he could contribute more to the collective good, he discovered that the benefits of silence far outweighed the urge to provide excessive input.

What does this revelation imply for leaders?

It emphasizes the importance of paying meticulous attention to how you motivate and provide feedback to your employees.

If you find yourself frequently uttering phrases such as “Great idea, but…” or “Nevertheless,” consider the power of stopping at the first sentence. Whenever possible, take a moment to inhale deeply and reflect on whether what you are about to say truly holds value.

Over time, you will witness the remarkable benefits that arise from restraining excessive interference in the work process, benefiting both your team and yourself.

How Leaders Can Stop Over Controlling & Adding Too Much Value

Below are some suggested strategies for leaders to overcome over-controlling behaviors and foster collaboration:

  1. Attentively gauge your level of contribution

A certain sense of self-awareness is crucial to break free from the habit of overpowering conversations with personal opinions. Take a moment to observe and reflect on your interactions during team meetings and one-on-one discussions.

If you notice a recurring pattern where your ideas overshadow others and action items become uniform, it’s a clear signal that you should step back. Acknowledge and appreciate the valuable contributions of team members, allowing them the space to express themselves fully.

For instance, imagine an employee proposes an innovative idea during a meeting. Rather than immediately interjecting with your own thoughts, practice restraint and encourage further input from others. This inclusive approach not only empowers other individuals – but also cultivates a collaborative environment that fosters diverse perspectives and solutions.

  1. Embrace comprehensive information sharing

Effective discussions require that all participants possess a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. By providing complete information upfront, you equip them with the necessary context to contribute meaningfully – which prevents lopsided conversations driven solely by your extensive knowledge.

Consider implementing a systematic approach to information sharing. Compile all relevant details, objectives, key discussion points, and limitations in a central location accessible to everyone involved. This comprehensive overview serves as a roadmap for constructive exchanges, where each person can contribute based on a shared understanding.

Now, let’s say you are initiating a strategy discussion. By sharing essential market research, customer insights, and competitive analysis, you empower your team to provide informed input and innovative ideas. In this collaborative environment, the collective intelligence of the group can flourish, leading to more effective decision-making.

  1. Master the art of active listening and inquiry

To curb the impulse of immediately sharing their opinion, leaders are recommended to develop active listening skills and encourage open dialogue. Instead of jumping in with your viewpoint, pause and redirect the conversation by asking for others’ perspectives.

When you feel the urge to interject, reframe your input as a broad, open-ended question. For example, rather than providing a direct suggestion like, “Have you thought about spending an hour at the beginning of your workday for this project?” rephrase it as,

“Have you explored alternative approaches to organizing your work schedule?”

This approach invites genuine conversation, allowing team members to contribute their own insights and propose diverse solutions.

By embracing active listening and posing open-ended questions, leaders contribute to building up an environment that values collaboration, fosters critical thinking, and stimulates creative problem-solving. This shift from directive leadership to inclusive engagement empowers individuals to take ownership of their work – as well as fosters a culture of continuous improvement.

Remember, by adopting the above strategies, you promote a healthy balance between guidance and autonomy, leading to enhanced team dynamics, higher job satisfaction, and ultimately, improved organizational outcomes.

Read more: Soliciting Feedback – Key to a Better Workplace

Balancing Leadership and Empowerment – Avoid Acting Like a Know-it-all

As leaders ascend the organizational ladder, their focus must shift from personal success to cultivating the success of others. True leadership emerges when the absence of a leader doesn’t disrupt the overall workflow.

To combat the habit of over controlling in leadership, one must strive to resist the temptation of constantly showcasing expertise in every team meeting. Instead, create opportunities for other members to showcase their abilities and excel.

When someone presents an idea, seize the moment to foster an environment that promotes growth and collaboration. Encourage them to delve deeper into the details, allowing them to develop clearer thinking and enhance their presentation skills. By prompting contributors to defend their viewpoints, you nurture their confidence, critical thinking, and ability to articulate their ideas effectively.

This approach not only empowers people – but also fosters a culture of inclusivity, where each team member feels valued and encouraged to contribute their unique insights. As a leader, embracing this mindset strengthens the collective capacity of the team, driving innovation and unlocking the full potential of each member.

Balancing Leadership and Empowerment - Fostering Ownership and Commitment in Teams

Encouraging employee autonomy

Read more: The Power of Team Coaching

Final Thoughts

As leaders, it is our call to strike a delicate balance between guidance and empowerment. Recognizing the perils of over controlling in leadership and understanding the negative consequences of adding too much value is the first step toward fostering a culture of collaboration, ownership, and innovation. By allowing team members to take ownership of their ideas and initiatives, leaders can unleash their full potential and achieve remarkable results.

(Compiled based on Dr. Marshall Goldsmith’s bestseller – “What got you here won’t get you there“)

What got you here won't get you there - Marshall Goldsmith

Other resources you might be interested in:

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