My Boss is a Control Freak

Sometimes I run workshops and see this first hand. Other times, during Keynotes at conferences, I ask the audience who has a boss that they find controlling – and more than 75% of people immediately throw up their hands (I suspect there’s more, but their boss might be sitting right next to them).

No one likes the feeling of someone constantly looking over their shoulder and second-guessing their work. Possibly the worst thing you can do is to overtly rebel against it. This often signals to managers that something is, in fact, wrong and they clamp down even harder.

So if your boss is a control freak, then here are three things you can do to help the situation.


Get on the front foot

If your boss is a control freak, then chances are that you are not the only one that they are trying to control (unless you’re his only direct report – in that case…. Good luck!!).

Trying to control a bunch of different people is really exhausting, but the manager will usually justify this by saying they ‘need’ to.

You can alleviate some of that effort they put into controlling people – and make their life easier - by showing them that you are really good at coming to them with ideas or suggestions, or just progress reports.

Make sure you help out by delivering reports on time, go to them with suggestions or ideas regularly, or even just drop in to brainstorm a couple of solutions. When they start to trust that you will come to them - without them having to chase you up – then they might start to back off.


Help them be in control

It’s never about having control for these people because control is such a moving target. It is always about feeling in control. Having and feeling control are two very different concepts.

You can help your manager get a feeling of control by developing an agreement about what that looks like for them.

In your next one-on-one, bring this up (or you might have to instigate this if one-on-ones don’t actually happen). Say that you notice that they want to be kept abreast of all of the work you are doing, but that you’d like to find a way to help them feel like they’re on top of things without wasting their time physically checking up on you all the time.

Maybe they decide to have a twice-weekly check-in or a weekly report. Any agreement like this will then be proactive, rather than having them interrupt you all the time at inopportune moments.



Finally, you might need to take some accountability. If they are checking up on you all the time, then perhaps there is a reason for it. Are you sure that your priorities are aligned? Do you really understand what’s important to the business and/or your manager? Are you hitting all your targets and deadlines? Make sure you’ve got a good handle on this before you do any of the other two things above.

People don’t necessarily need control. But they need to feel like they’re in control. There’s a reason they need to feel control, most likely having something to do with their personality, so find out how you can make them feel that way, then they might stop chasing you because they feel out of control.



** Tony Wilson is a Workplace Performance Expert. His insights into performance science and it's application in the workplace will make you re-think the way that you approach leadership, culture change, high performance and productivity. Tony has an MBA and a BSc majoring in physiology and delivers workshops and keynote presentations around the globe.

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