The Cost of the Controller at Home and Work

It shows up at home when we parent and at work when we think we know best and decide to not delegate. There are many other ways the controller can rear its head and although those of us who have this as a top saboteur believe we mean well, the impact is usually the opposite of what we intend. Think about it… As parents, we love our kids so much and just want the best for them, so we hover over and attempt to control most moves they make – all in the name of wanting the best outcome. At work, we believe we know the best way to execute and efficiently complete a task, so we don’t share any responsibility and consequently, get in the rhythm of taking on more and more.

Top reactions of those with a high controller include yelling, threatening, withdrawing or nagging.

And the top negative feelings associated include irritation, frustration, worry, exasperation and even fear.

Those who have a strong controller have an anxiety-based need to take charge and control situations and people’s actions. And when they are not able to achieve this level of control, impatience and even more anxiety result. Might as well hop on a hamster wheel for the same outcome.

Hamster wheel

The controller “motivates” according to the following lies below. I call them lies because it’s too easy to fall into a trap of believing their power. But, rationalizing isn’t always rational.

The Lies…

Without the controller, you can’t get much done. You need to push people. If I don’t control, I will be controlled and I can’t live with that. I am trying to get the job done for all our sakes

Does this sound like you or anyone you know? 

Now, it’s not all bad because remember, all saboteurs represent our greatest strengths that are overused. When used in the right amount, the positives of the controller include:

  • Confidence, action-oriented, decisiveness, willful, persistence
  • Ability to challenge self and others  (positive when it comes from a vantage of pulling instead of pushing!)
  • Able to do the right thing, even if unpopular
  • See possibilities and activate self and others towards the outcome

A lot of leaders have a high controller saboteur and when channeled in the appropriate way and balanced, the impact can be phenomenal. Hello, high and inspiring performers! And when overused, relationships suffer and stress is high. Hello, the blow to employee engagement because psychological safety has been compromised (more on this topic next month).  

Here are some of the characteristics to be on the lookout for so you know when the controller might be reeling ‘out of control’

  • strong energy and need to control and take charge
  • connect with others through competition, challenge, physicality, or conflict rather than softer emotions
  • willful, confrontational, straight talker
  • push people beyond their comfort zone
  • comes alive when doing the impossible and beating the odds
  • stimulate by and connects through conflict.  Surprised that others get hurt
  • Intimidate others.  In your face communication interpreted by others as anger or criticism 

The thoughts that drive those with the controller are pretty absolute with little grey area or middle ground:

  • You are either in control or out of control
  • If I work hard enough I can and should control the situation so it goes my way
  • Others want and need me to take control. I’m doing them a favor
  • No one tells me what to do

And then there’s the feedback loop with feelings:

  • high anxiety when things aren’t going as expected
  • angry and intimidating when others don’t follow (criticism and condemnation NEVER motivate)
  • impatient with others feelings and different styles
  • Rarely admits when feeling hurt or rejected

The impact of the controller saboteur upon others is the exact opposite desired result. As with all saboteurs, there is a paradoxical impact or statically speaking, an inverse effect because the more control exerted, the less control is actually achieved. The controller will get temporary results, but it will be at the cost of others feeling controlled and resentful; others won’t be able to tap their own greater reserves. The controller also generates a great deal of anxiety because many things in work and life are ultimately not controllable.

I’m not advocating permissive parenting or a lack of oversight at work. But, both kids and team members need to feel empowered to learn. This will reward the behavior next time around so they take initiative and do pleasing work or take the desired action. Letting go of some of the attachment to the outcome is required and is the only way to fuel learning and initiative.

So, want to have relationships that are less strained and so the important others in your life are more connected and committed to you and contribute what you desire? Then we need to tame the controller.

Let’s rebalance the Controller saboteur so your relationships are enriched and you may practice happiness a little more effortlessly to reap more joy in your life. 

Or if you’d like to see if you have a strong controller saboteur, CLICK HERE to receive a link to the free PQ assessment where you’ll learn about your saboteurs and how you might be overusing your strengths. 

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