7 Suggestions for Confronting a Controlling Leader

I received this comment on a post recently:

Any chance there is an upcoming post or two on how/when/where to confront a controlling leader? Especially for those of us who have had it drilled into our heads from childhood to not question authority? Some practical, nitty gritty tips would be really helpful.

That’s a pretty big request, but I think it’s a topic worth considering. I wrote previously 3 Ways to Respond to a Controlling Leader. This would be the “challenge” response. I should point out that while I believe the Bible teaches to respect authority, I don’t believe it says we must ignore the abuse of authority. All children should honor their parents, for example, but respect is never an excuse for abuse. There are times when it is appropriate to confront authority. Jesus certainly did during His earthly ministry.

If you have a controlling leader, here are 7 suggestions with how to approach them:

Discern the need – Pray about it. Talk it through with others. You should make sure your perception of this leader is correct. Is it him or her…or is it you? Then ask this question: Is this my responsibility? Do I sense the burden to do this? Will it make a difference, and if not, do I feel compelled to do it anyway?

Consider the timing – When addressing any conflict, timing is everything. Pick a day when things are going well…from the leader’s perspective. Find the least stressful, calmest time you can. You want to catch the leader in the best mood possible.

Plan your approach – What are you going to say? How will you say it? Will you do this alone or with someone else? You may want to write your response first and rehearse it. In stressful situations I think it is okay to bring notes. It shows you came prepared and have thought about the issue. Make sure you show as much respect for the leader as you can. Balance your critique with ample and genuine compliments. (There are even times, depending on the expected response of the leader or your expected ability to keep your composure where I would recommend writing a letter. I wrote about how to do that HERE.)

Bite the bullet – You can keep putting it off, but at some point you’ll have to approach the controlling leader if you hope to see a change. It will never be easy, but who knows that you were not put in this place for “such a time as this”…and by this point you’ve already discerned the need to do this.

Couch in love and respect – This can’t be over-emphasized. People don’t listen to people who don’t show genuine love for them or at least the respect the things or people they love. Most controlling leaders are hungry for respect…it’s part of their problem…so if you want to gain their attention, be respectful. (Again, because I know this is difficult for some people, but being respectful does not mean being silent, just as being meek or gentle does not mean being weak.)

Be clear and direct – Don’t make the leader wonder what you are talking about when you confront him or her. Talking around the problem will not be clear to a controlling leader. Most controlling leaders think their control is a sign of good leadership. They don’t realize they are the problem. You will not want to take this step to confront more than once, so make sure you are clear with the issues as you see them. If you’re going through the stress and preparation to confront, make sure you address the real problem.

Live with your consequences - You’ve prayed and prepared. You know you are doing the right thing for you and the organization. You confronted the leader with love and respect. You were clear about the problems. The response of the leader is out of your hands. You can’t control the leader’s response, but you can control your response to the leader’s response. Be willing to live with the consequences of your actions. After all, isn’t that one thing you could model for the controlling leader? (You may want to refer back to my 3 Ways to Respond to a Controlling Leader post for the other options.)

You may also need to read: 5 Ways to Influence People Who Lead You (Leading Up)

Have you ever had to confront a controlling leader?

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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7 thoughts on “7 Suggestions for Confronting a Controlling Leader

  1. Can't tell you how much I appreciate your thoughts. Its frustrating & demoralizing to be looking a problem you feel like you can't fix – but you know if you could do SOMETHING the church/organization as a whole would be better off.

    Having only been brave enough to give this a try once (hence my call for help!), I would add to this that you must steel yourself against the enemy's attacks as well. Upon confronting a leader, I always find myself feeling *guilty* for having done so. Pointing out a flaw in my superiors felt sinful – although I know I was calling this particular individual to honesty & integrity (certainly not sinful). The kind reminder was taken well by this individual, but I was still left dealing with the guilt factor. I found that talking to another coworker (who is very skilled in the area of a loving rebuke) helped alleviate those feelings and gave me some confidence in knowing that what I did was done for the best of both the organization & the boss.

    My coworker likes to remind me that our boss is also going through his own sanctification – and that if prayerfully and lovingly done, our confrontation of him can actually help him on his way to becoming more like Christ.

    So grateful for your blog & the wisdom you share!

  2. The fact is that to live with a controlling leader is very difficult. Every conversation is difficult if you not agree with him/her.

  3. In one past church, there was a controlling elder who basic words were, "It is either Bill or me." It was me who went. I am currently "facing" a former leader who is campaigning among the leaders that the church would be better off without me. I have the support of the elders and so I have allowed it to go. But if it continues I may have to finally meet him head-on or tell the elders they need to deal with him (since he has chosen to do an end run around me with his last email). Any suggestions? Do I or do I tell the elders they need to nip it?

    • If the elders are willing, I'd let them handle it. I see that as perfect for their role and less appropriate for yours.