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?