The worst excuses I’ve heard about being a controlling manager


Controlling Managers are everywhere and they have told me some great reasons why they do what they do. Thankfully most of them are smart enough to realise that their own justifications are feeding their need to control and not doing anything to help their team members or the business.

What we know is that we all need a degree of autonomy in our lives. It is a basic psychological need and an intrinsic motivator. When you empower others to make decisions, choose how to do their work and give them a sense of freedom then people become motivated to do their best work. Isn’t that what you really want from your team.

The mistakes of a micromanager

A controlling manager may feel they are exercising their own autonomy, but fail to realise that you need to pass it on. The controlling manager fears failure and so feels the need to control everything and everyone, to know everything and everyone and to make all decisions. Wow, that sure is a lot of pressure they are putting themselves under. And as they become more stressed thus they need to gain greater control and the micromanagement, diminishing, tyrannical leadership grows.

I often get called in to help these kind of leaders to gain some self-awareness and to make choices about how they want to lead and how to change. Here are some of their top excuses for being a controlling manager.

Top 5 controlling excuses

  1. They don’t make the right decisions. This is a common excuse and is easy to remedy. Many of the Managers I meet tell me that they can’t delegate decision-making because they don’t see the capability within the team. I ask them how they learned how to make decisions and they reply, ‘by experience,’ and there it is. How will you ever have a team of capable people who are able to make decisions if you don’t develop them and give opportunities. Letting go of the control will give you what you want, but you must have courage and trust. You can advise, coach or mentor, but do not manipulate or take over. You can set boundaries in decision-making, or agree check in points, but micromanaging will only mean you diminish your people’s capability.
  2. Other people don’t come up with any ideas. Have you ever been in a meeting where the manager asks for ideas and everyone looks down and stays silent? I have. It is uncomfortable and someone will eventually break the silence and say something, anything. That person is often the Manager. They don’t realise that the reason others don’t come up with ideas is because they fear the outcome or they know they will be ignored. Fear may come from ridicule, consequences, shaming or blame. If they have seen others be treated this way in a meeting before, then they are less likely to risk putting their ideas out there. Fear simply shuts people down. I have also witnessed a great leader, a high influencer, play what his team called ‘Jedi mind tricks’ on them. He would open the meeting by saying he wanted to hear everyone’s ideas on how to fix the problem. He would explain the situation and then go on to steer or position his own solutions. He would then complain that he was they only person to come up with any ideas. I challenged him to speak last or even remove himself from the meetings. Although he found this challenge hard at first, when he saw the mountain of ideas from the team he realised he had been controlling and steering his people subconsciously.
  3. They don’t deliver what I want them to deliver, in the right way. Some controlling managers are simply perfectionists. They have found a process or method that works in their minds or suits their way of working and therefore think that is the right way. This shows a huge deficit in emotional intelligence and self-awareness. No-one works exactly like you. You are unique. The right way for you maybe the wrong way for someone else. Forcing someone to be like you will only cause resentment, stress and perhaps hate. Understanding others working styles, experience and motivations means that you can effectively lead others to do their best work. This might not be the way you do things, but unless you are doing the work then your way is irrelevant. Of course you can set the outcomes or quality/cost/time measures, but how they do it is up to them. Your ego says you know the right way, but you are not the fount of all knowledge and wisdom so it is time to come off your cloud.
  4. They always push the decision-making upwards. This is such a common frustration. Leaders complain that they have to make all of the decision and their people don’t take any accountability or personal responsibility for their work. When I observe the behaviours I see the leaders frustration manifest as telling, directing, ordering and controlling. They have managed the accountability out of their teams. Why would anyone make a decision when it will be overruled later on? Why would anyone need to think for themselves when you will tell them what needs to be done anyway? Controlling leaders create teams of apathy and underperformance. To stop decisions coming up, start empowering others to make them.
  5. I have the experience and know best. This is the ego talking and it has no place in leadership. Sometimes you might know best, but sometimes you have to let others learn and develop to get the experience. If you act like a parent all of the time, you will never allow your children to grow and learn. And here is another key idea… What you know may have been relevant last week, year or decade, but maybe there is a better way now. The world in which we live is always changing and sometimes your experience isn’t relevant today. You might think you know best, but you might be wrong. If you fear not being the expert then you need to go and find a job as an expert, not a leader of people or manager. You are in the wrong job.

Psychology has informed us for decades that the best way to motivate and deliver peak performance is to tap into people’s intrinsic motivators. We all perform our best work when we feel have, empowered and trusted. There is no place for the micromanager in teams and controllers need to understand their fears and develop themselves.

If you hear any of these excuses in your business, get in touch and we can help you change your culture from control to autonomy.

Say hello@3wh.uk.com