The Trouble with Control

post by Jen Shirkani:

write about the damage done when, as leaders, we don’t fully allow employees to
have control over their tasks, projects or budgets. Everyone I know says they
hate being micromanaged, and we certainly don’t want to list “control freak” as
a skill to be endorsed for on our LinkedIn profile page. Yet, there are signs
of low trust/high control managers everywhere. But no one will admit to being
one of them.  

it’s not just the nemesis of new, inexperience managers who are nervous and
learning to use their delegation skills. It plagues leaders from the top to the
bottom of an organization: new leaders, old leaders, promoted from within,
hired from the outside. And the list of reasons to stay involved in the nitty
gritty details goes something like this:

“I am not telling them how to do it, just
what they need to do.”

“It’s faster for me to do it myself.”

“I’m role modeling how to do it so they know
what to do next time.”

“The stakes are too high for this to fail, I
need to be involved to protect my team.”

“I am not above doing the dirty work
alongside you. I am just being a servant leader.”

of these leaders are well intentioned, they do just want to help their direct
reports or expedite progress toward a goal. But too often, it just gums up the
works as things grind to halt waiting for executive review. One common issue is
the senior leader who wants to approve every new hire. And we are not talking
small companies who hire less than ten people a year. This is practice at many
large organizations who have to review thousands of resumes. And really,
without interviewing the candidate yourself, or knowing the ins and outs of
every job in every department in a large company, do you really think you know
who the best candidate for the job will be? C’mon. 

other negative consequence I see is the cycle of control feeding control. Assume that I am a very well-meaning leader who
stays involved to help teach, coach or provide ground cover for my employee. I
am a good person, so when I make choices for another I also have a conscience that
goes along with it. I feel a responsibility to them and the choice I helped
them make (that I know they will be directly affected by) successful. Which
means if I will probably try and control it even more if I see them struggle or
going off course. I justify this by saying, “The whole point of me being
involved was for this to go well, I can’t let go of things now…” Of course,
even with me involved it can still fail or not live up to our mutual
expectations. But now, I have my ego to protect and you still need a positive
example to learn from so I will just have to get more involved next time to make sure it goes how it needs to. Get
it? We create our own cycle of dependency and involvement.

won’t be easy, but you can learn to be a recovering micromanager. First work to
recognize your instincts to get too deep in the weeds. Is this really something
you should really be involved in? Is your involvement slowing things down? How
will your next tier leaders get ready if you never let them feel both
responsibility and accountability? Remember, it is very hard to hold someone
else accountable to decisions you have been involved in. Next, read the
environment. Are the risks of failure really that great? Are the people around
you truly untrustworthy or is your own fear driving your behavior? Are there
ways to stay informed without staying
involved? Lastly, think back to when
you were a new leader. Did you have all the answers before you tried something
risky? Didn’t you have to learn from hardships and failure? Is it possible your
team is capable and trustworthy even if they don’t approach things the same way
you do?    

Hey, we have all been there, the desire to stay involved
and in control is alluring. But just remember, all it does is tie you to
dependent employees and stifles your organization’s ability to grow and be


About the author:

Jen Shirkani ( has over 20 years of experience as a
learning and development specialist and coach. She routinely works with both
from the Fortune 500 and principals in family-owned entities
specializing in the application of Emotional Intelligence. She holds a Master’s Degree in Organizational

She is the author of Ego
vs. EQ: How Top Leaders Beat 8 Ego Traps Using Emotional Intelligence
(  Drawing on real-life anecdotes from Jen’s
years of coaching and consulting, Ego vs EQ provides research and case study
examples in an easy to read, practical format and is ideal for anyone currently
in an executive leadership role, including business owners, or those wanting to
become a dynamic future leader.