We've all been there - forced to work with, or for, a person who is a total control freak. They come in many shapes and sizes. Most don't reach the pinnacle in large organizations because they lack the confidence required to stand-out among top talent. But, in mid-sized and smaller firms they can succeed to a significant level and make many people's lives miserable.
The need to control is a form of neurosis forged out of a deep-rooted insecurity and fear of being not quite good enough. This inferiority complex is most often manifested by an overwhelming need to control every situation that they're in. For example, you'll the control freak limit access to superiors, constrain the sharing of information and micro-manage subordinates. In social situations, the control freak will likely be the one ordering the wine - they may even want to order the food for each of guest!
Nonetheless, a control freak is very difficult to work with and report to - their overarching need to control the show stifles productivity and squeezes ambition and enthusiasm out of everyone that they encounter in the workplace. What to do?
You really can't "fix" someone who doesn't want to be fixed. So, you'll never make a control freak less controlling. But, here are several ideas that can help you work with them more effectively:
1. Because the need to control is typically a symptom of vast insecurity; co-workers and subordinates must work diligently to remove all threat from the work situation. Taking time to explain what you're intending to do before you do will help assuage a control freak's insecurity.
2. Transparent communications is a must. Related to the point above, be sure to communicate early and often. A control freak cannot get enough status reporting - just be prepared to be critiqued and made to re-do your work to meet expectations.
3. Help a control freak be less controlling by enabling them to better understand how what you're doing will lead to their success. By providing a solid explanation of what's in it for them, some controlling people will give you a bit of room to facilitate their personal success.
4. Anticipate their challenges and offer ways to solve them. You become an important contributor to a control freak when you can predict and mitigate problems before they become huge, insurmountable threats in the mind of a controlling person.
5. Control the urge to heap praise. I'm not suggesting that resort to kissing up. I think that's a sign of weakness. And, while a control freak may recognize it as such, once they see you doing it they will surely come to use it as a tool to manipulate you further. So, sure give credit, when credit is due; but, don't overdo it!
6. Offer no surprises. It is that pure a simple - don't do something that the control freak is not expecting and you can avoid being labeled as someone who can't be trusted. Remember, these people have weak and fragile egos, so any misstep will be seen as a threat. Threatening people can't be trusted. So, don't surprise a control freak.
To close, control freaks wreak havoc in the workplace. Unfortunately, they're need to control usually leads them to develop extraordinary skills at manipulating their superiors. In fact, sometimes superiors develop "blind spots" which prevent them from seeing and understanding the damage that their sycophantic control freak subordinates are doing to the business.
Mercifully, this manipulation is often short-lived, as all control freaks will get discovered and dealt with. Until that time, it is my hope that these tips help you to cope. Because this topic is so important, please feel free to leave a comment or thought below. You can also contact me directly, if you'd like to explore the topic one-on-one.