Let's start with the one major upside to control freaks, which is a term used to describe perfectionists in over-drive. They are generally decent people with a strong work ethic and an even stronger focus on high quality.
Steve Jobs is our modern day prototype for a perfectionist on steroids. His quest, as is the case with others like him, was to keep pushing for the very best and not be satisfied until it's there. Who doesn't want someone with high standards on the team?
• Are you a good listener?
• Lack of sleep will catch up with you at work
• Don't be a back seat driver on your own career path
Of course, the downside to any strength is what happens when it is played to its extreme - especially during stressful periods.
Under pressure, perfectionism often transforms into a nasty beast - akin to the Incredible Hulk ripping through his garments -- needing to control every single thing in its path.
If you're a manager and your team thinks that you're a control freak, it probably means that you hover way too closely over them when you're under stress. Of course, you're trying to make sure that things get done correctly. However, they likely interpret your behaviour as a lack of trust in them to do their jobs.
The bottom line is - you're turning people off and eroding their trust and confidence in you. And you may be working harder than you need to because, ultimately, people just let you go ahead and do it all yourself. They infer that you need to be in control, so they simply stop trying. It's a predictable cycle.
Six Signs of a Control Freak
There are six signs that are usually manifested by people who are control freaks. At the root of each of these six is the dreaded fear of failure, which fuels vulnerability.
Ironically, vulnerability is what we all have in common as humans. Nevertheless, perfectionists fear failure, which means they are most likely to unravel when the risk increases.
1. The need to be in charge....of everything!
It doesn't matter how big or small the task, or whether there are other capable people around. A fear of failure often plays itself out in your desire to be across more of what's going on, rather than less. Things are not likely to unravel if you're required to be in every meeting where a decision is made. Control freaks attend many meetings.
2. Hands on the controls.
This goes deeper than needing to be in charge. This is where you actually get down into the detail of decision-making that sends a direct message to your team, or even your peers, that you don't have confidence in their ability to do it themselves. As a manager, you should be concerned if your team comes to you for sign-off on every single line item. Why are they there?
3. The forest gets lost in the trees.
The old idiom travels well with those who have to have their hands on the controls at all times. Even if you start out at a macro level on a project, within weeks you have managed to drill yourself down to the most operational level, losing sight of the big picture. More importantly, everyone takes your lead and starts to do the same.
4. The need to be right.
This is the curse of being a manager, or technical expert. You assume that others expect you to have all the answers, so this means that you may push an idea as if it's a fait accompli, rather than a catalyst for others to build on. Autocratic leadership has its place, but under most circumstances people want to help you think. This can't happen if you need to be right.
5. Unwilling to learn from others.
You can see the trend here. If you have a fundamental need to be right, this then means that people with opposing views have to be wrong. From their eyes, you aren't open to hearing about their experiences, or the logic behind their ideas. They only experience you as someone who picks holes in their logic, rather than building on their ideas with your own.
6. Unwilling to trust others.
From the vantage of other people, this is what it often boils down to - especially if you're their manager and you hired them to bring their own skills and perspective to the table. Very often, your need for a perfect outcome comes across as an unwillingness to let go. For people around you, they interpret this as a lack of trust in their ability to perform. Are they right?
Ways to Let Go
Letting go is largely about mind-set.
If you believe that it's dangerous to let people struggle through something in order to find their way, you will probably keep them on a very tight leash. If you believe that people learn best when they struggle through something, then you'll empower them to take more control.
Mind-set is everything and people can see what you're thinking through your actions.
1. Become more self-aware.
If you're not getting the results that you want, it may be because you're part of the problem. If your team has stopped trying, or seem disengaged with their work, could it have something to do with how hands-on you've been with them? The energy that you put out is often the same energy that you get back. They will trust you if you trust them.
2. Stretch yourself.
Can you really ask others to get on a learning curve and be vulnerable when you haven't done the same yourself? Show the team - or even your family - that you aren't afraid to put yourself out there and take some risks. You can't inspire anyone if you never do anything outside your comfort zone. A little imperfection can go a long way toward stronger connections.
3. Coach rather than manage.
The primary role of a coach is to instruct and motivate. A coach never gets on the field during play, but rather is actively supporting the players as they drive the ball toward the goal line. The players have to actually carry the ball in order to feel that sense of ownership. Coaching is different from more hands-on managing. You get better results being a coach.
4. Step up and redefine what's important.
Control often resides in the details, which is why micro-managing is a common complaint about control freaks. In order to let go, you have to step up to something that you consider to be just as compelling as having your hands on everything. Is your role that of a coach, or a connector, or as a catalyst for change? Where else should you be adding value?
5. Deal with the need to control everything.
You don't have to go terribly deep to understand what happens to your behaviour when you're under stress. It goes back to your relationship with vulnerability. If uncertainty threatens you, then you will probably clamp down with all kinds of controls. If uncertainty fuels you, then people are far more likely to feel a more inclusive vibe from you.
Empty your Plate
Former Refining NZ Chief Executive, Ken Rivers, once said, "If I'm doing my job right, I should have the least amount of work on my plate than anyone else in the company." That's a real mind-set shift for anyone who currently defines 'adding value' as having more things on their plate.
If you qualify as a perfectionist in over-drive, take on the challenge to see if you can empty your plate, or at least reduce the portion sizes a little. It's all about mind-set.