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  • Writer's pictureJill Lynch Cruz

Are you a Control Freak? 4 Ways to Let Go of the Reins

Do you always need to be in control? That if you aren't, bad things might happen? The ability to control many aspects of your life isn't a bad thing, but if taken too far, it can damage your relationships and diminish your power and potential as a leader. Here are four ways you may be showing up as a “control freak” and how to loosen the reins.

Have you ever noticed that some of your greatest strengths can become a liability when taken to extremes? For me, it centers around my need for control. On the one hand, my ability to manage myself and others has helped me achieve goals and get things done. This has served me well in my career as a leader.

Yet, this "strength" can affect my relationships with others when taken too far. For example, when I try to oversteer my family's schedule, they get annoyed and resist my attempts to be their "Cruz Director."

Why We Feel the Need to Control

Fear of the unknown drives our need for control. We are uncomfortable with uncertainty and worry about all the bad things that could happen if we allow events to follow their natural course.

We try to manage this uncertainty by taking charge of the situation. That by controlling other people, events, or even ourselves, we can avert potential mistakes or failures.

Most of us don’t mean to be overcontrolling. It’s more likely we fear what will happen if we let go of the reins. However, this becomes a vicious cycle as our need to control becomes a crutch to keep our anxiety at bay.

Our anxiety doesn’t come from thinking about our future. It comes from trying to control it. ~ Kahlil Gibran

How it Gets in Our Way

Have you ever worked with someone who tried to pressure or manipulate you to get their way? How did it make you feel? I'm guessing you probably felt annoyed (or even angry) about their attempts to control you. And that instead of complying, you resisted their efforts.

Being able to control yourself and others isn't a bad thing and has probably helped you achieve some level of success. Imagine trying to lead a team without being able to direct their efforts. Yet, it can have the opposite effect of what you hope to accomplish if taken too far.

Instead of instilling cooperation, controlling behaviors often create friction, breed resentment, diminish trust, and get in the way of our relationships with others. No one ever says, "I'm so lucky. I get to work with a control freak!" This includes members of your team.

Here are 4 ways to stop showing up as a control freak and start letting go of the reins:

1. You Do Everything Yourself

Teresita is overwhelmed by her demanding workload but doesn’t ask others to help because she worries they won't meet her high standards.

Do you believe that if you want something done right, you might as well do it yourself? Many overcontrollers do. We have difficulty delegating work to others because we worry it won't be up to par, and we'll wind up redoing it or wasting time fixing their mistakes.

When you try to do everything yourself, this leaves you overburdened and diminishes your power and potential. You are also sending a message to your team that you don’t trust them to do a good job.

How to Let Go: One of the secrets to achieving more of your most important priorities is to delegate everything that isn’t your “highest and best use.” These are the value-added strengths and skills that only you can provide. While it may be hard to let go, start small by allowing yourself to delegate routine tasks that have less of an impact on the outcome.


2. You Micromanage Others

Sophia’s AA is responsible for sending the standard contract and engagement letters to all new clients. While her AA is more than capable, Sophia feels the need to review the procedures with her each time.

Do you think your way is always the best? Like the unwillingness to delegate, anxiety about others' mistakes compels us to be overcontrolling in how the work gets done. This can look like frequent check-ins or offering too many guidelines.

If your management style is met with frustration and resistance, it's a sign that you might be micromanaging. Rather than being a source of help and support, this approach appears to be nitpicking and undermines others' confidence and trust in themselves.

How to Let Go: Next time you find yourself requesting yet another status update or giving too many directives, ask yourself what might be underneath this behavior? Is it about your desire for clear communication? Or is it really that you don't trust others to do a good job? It's appropriate to set the objective and deadline but let others control how it gets done.


3. You Always Take Charge

In graduate school, I always raised my hand to be the lead on group projects. I convinced myself that it was because no one else would. But the truth was I didn't trust my grade in the hands of my peers.

Do you worry that something will fall through the cracks if you aren't in charge? This is a common concern for many overcontrollers because we aren't comfortable relegating our fate to the judgment of others.

Yet when we try to control others by taking over, this unfairly emphasizes our abilities and discounts those of others. This diminishes their contributions and makes them feel that their input and preferences aren't valued.

How to Let Go: Good leaders know that to empower others, sometimes you need to create space for others to take the lead. So rather than running roughshod over your teammates by always taking over, step back so they can step up and be heard.


4. You Are Inflexible

Shelly was irritated about having to attend a networking lunch with several potential clients because it interfered with her noontime workout. She was preparing for a marathon and felt anxious about not getting her miles in.

Many women leaders struggle with a lack of healthy boundaries, yet being too rigid can be equally problematic. This might look like getting upset with the slightest change in plans or needing to have everything be on your schedule.

Schedules and routines make us feel secure because they help us know what to expect and give us a sense of control over our lives. So for many overcontrollers, asking us to step outside of our plans can make us feel anxious and irritable.

How to Let Go: You can’t achieve your most important goals without making them part of your routine. But you also need the flexibility to be open and spontaneous! Some of the most rewarding opportunities are those we don't plan. So if your running schedule is a priority, come up with a contingency plan to get in your run before or after work when something important comes up.

Want to Let Go of Your Need to Control?

Learning to let go of our need for control isn't always easy, but it's the only way to experience greater peace and serenity with ourselves and others. It starts with paying closer attention to when you might be oversteering and how it may be associated with some anxiety you feel.

I'm still a work in progress, but one tool that has helped me notice when this tendency arises is mindfulness. So instead of jumping in to "save the day" without a second thought, now I'm able to hit the pause button to discern if the situation is really within my realm to control.

Do you want to be less controlling of yourself and others? If so, please contact me to learn how I can help. You are also welcome to schedule a complimentary coaching session to experience the power of coaching to help you "get out of your own way" to realize your full potential.

Jill Lynch Cruz, Ph.D., PCC, GCDF, SPHR

Executive Coach & Career Development Facilitator


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