7 Warning Signs You May Be a Controlling Leader

I’m seeing and hearing more about controlling leadership lately. I regularly talk to young leaders through my blog and many of them feel they are working for one. The odd thing, however, is that many controlling leaders never really know they are one.  One reason I annually ask our staff to evaluate me, is because I know I have this tendency (It’s even one of my “strengths” on StrengthsFinder) and I have to guard against it.

I’ve written about this form of leadership in previous posts:

10 Reasons Not to Call Yourself an Empowering Leader

Leading People Versus Controlling People

Are you still wondering if you might be one?

Here are 7 warning signs that you may be a controlling leader:

  • People start apologizing prior to approaching you with a new idea..
  • You don’t really know how people feel about you, but you assume they all approve of your leadership…
  • You assume you are always right…
  • You enjoy keeping others with less information than you have…
  • You think you should be involved in making all the decisions…
  • You fear others being in control of a project…
  • You ARE the final word on every decision…

Have you ever worked for a controlling leader? Are you one?  How would your team answer these questions about you?

What would you add to my list?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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37 thoughts on “7 Warning Signs You May Be a Controlling Leader

  1. A church closed down a tract ministry that delivered 75,000 Gospel messages a year.I asked them to consider continuing this ministry.They basically wrote me off and disrespectfully accused me of judging .When you shut down the word of God that to me is sin.

  2. Ron, great post. I worked for the poster-child for controlling leaders about 8 years ago. He told us (his leadership team) that our only job was to make him look good. Because of his tyrannical (is that a word?) tendencies, our corporate mission statement basically changed to "do whatever it takes to make our boss happy." While this was not good for the organization, this is exactly what our boss wanted.

    On his first day with our company, he handed us all a sheet of paper with the 21 rules of XYZ (his initials). We needed to follow these rules in order to remain employed. We joked that Moses gave us 10 commandments but our boss needed 21!

    I remember one meeting where we were presenting to our home office. He was sitting beside me and he told me before the meeting that if he was hitting my leg with his that was a signal that I was not allowed to talk. Needless to say, my leg was bruised from being hit so many times. This is just a small fraction of what happened under his leadership.

    In another situation, his office became too warm. Rather than turn the thermostat down, he ripped it off the wall and threw it against the wall. No control issues here!

    While this was the most horrific, unhealthy work situation I have ever seen or heard of, I am incredibly thankful that God brought this guy into my life. First of all, he taught me lots…mostly what not to do. Secondly, it led to me writing "Bleedership, Biblical First-Aid for Leaders" in which I contrast my boss' leadership style with that of some key Biblical leaders. As a result of that, the trajectory of my life has been changed drastically and I'm not sure I'd have the opportunity to serve leaders the way I do now.

    Thanks again for your post.

    Blessings to you!

    Jim Lange

  3. The epistles of Peter, and especially those of Paul instruct a pastor (elder) in how to lead the "flock of God", and what kind of person he should be. While they are not to be "lords over God's heritage", they are instructed to exhort and rebuke with all longsuffering and doctrine". They are to meekly "instruct those who oppose themselves". They are to love the sheep and give themselves for them. The best pastor's manual is I and II Timothy and Titus.

    There are selfish and abusive church leaders who do great damage to God's people. However, a pastor is not a whimp with nothing to do but conduct funerals, visit the sick, and preach a little sermonette on Sunday. His postition is Divinely ordained for the "perfecting of the saints", and their protection from false teachings and moral corruption. To fulfilll his ministry, he will sometimes appear intrusive. What a great responsibilty he has. Pray for your pastor, hold up his hands, love and honor him for the "work's sake" as the N.T. instructs.

  4. Good thoughts here, Ron. Perhaps not an indicator of a controlling leader but one of the leaders in our organization is often VERY quick to cut me off and finish my sentences for me. Aside from being childish at best and extremely rude at worst, this is one of the most annoying traits I find in people in leadership.

    Thanks again, Ron.

  5. I used to be under some of the leadership like that a few years ago, Ron!!! I wonder how I would be if I was in a leadership role and it scares me. I just don't the leadership skills sometimes but I have to bite the bullet on decisions that I make whether it makes a great or negative impact.

    I hope that if I am in a leadership that I do not make decisions and I have the final decision. I want to make sure that the decisions I make are in agreement with everyone on the team and everyone feels like this is the right decision.

  6. Another sign of a controlling leader is that every new idea is met with some sort of negative response.
    Oh, yes – and such leaders are often passive-aggressive.

  7. This is very true, I see this in the work place daily on a regular bases…controlling people like to minimize the gifts and talents of others, they will also try and twist the truth about you and your leadership…when they make a big mistake they seek a scapegoat to take the fall…one of the observations I have noticed about controlling people is they will "reap what they sow", they cannot control their tongue and out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks…the most destructive trait I have observed personally is that controlling people can never and I mean never have enough power and influence…they always desire MORE…and they will do anything to have it!

  8. More signs: You always denounce and/or threaten anyone who has the audacity to disagree with you. You have absolutely no accountability to anyone, and surround yourself with people who would never dare to question you.

  9. Thanks for the post. Regrettably I identify with a few of the seven. I think when I am controlling it is because I want to feel significant. I want my opinion to matter. I want to be the one with the "winning" idea. I want to be a better leader and am trying to be more aware of my controlling tendencies, and am trying to practice better leadership, even though I am not there on the inside.

  10. You've really got me thinking about your first point. I don't think I would ever notice this. If I did, I'm not sure I would make this connection. It makes perfect sense now that you've pointed it out, and it will be something I pay much closer attention to in the future.

  11. I'm positive the pastor at the church I use to attend has control issues. I was told I could no longer attend the church because of unforgiveness, suspicion, pride and an unwillingness to submit to scriptural authority. I know you aren't aware of the details, but in the past 5 years, the church has gone from 50 teens and about 20 children on a Wednesday night to no Wednesday night program at all. The Sunday morning church service has gone from about 40 to a mere 12. I continue to believe that God has a purpose and a plan in the whole situation. Unfortunately, people in leadership don't always realize the enormous affect they have on the lives of others. Thank you for writing about such a delicate yet much needed subject.

  12. I would also add that you might be a controlling leader if you find yourself contemplating (or even doing) things that are deceptive, underhanded or immoral in order to control the behavior of others. This includes things like gossip, slander, speaking harshly or in obvious anger to the person or to others about the person, etc.

    Paying attention to our inner dialogues concerning those who follow us can give us clues as to what kind of leader we are. Even if we never say it out loud, thinking of church or board members predominantly in negative terms is a sign that we are not handling our leadership well. Even truly difficult people need to be led, not controlled.

    I see this in my parenting, w/my 16 yr old daughter. When we are going thru rough patches, if I find myself beginning to think of her in terms of her negative attitudes only, then I know that I am abdicating my leadership position. I can only lead her into respect, honor and love by walking that way myself. I can't excuse my negativity just because she is being difficult, as I have to remember that her negativity may be triggered by my being difficult, in her eyes.