I have written a good deal recently about controlling leadership. As most of my posts do, this stems from current or past experience in leadership. Within the past 6 months, I have talked with close to a dozen individuals in ministry or business who are experiencing this type of leader. It is effecting their personal leadership, as well as the health of their organization.
My theory is that one reason this tension is increasing is due to young leaders who want a voice at the table early in their leadership intersecting with seasoned leaders trying to hold on to power. Perhaps I’ll write more about that in another post.
If you missed any of these posts you can read:
7 Warning Signs You May Be a Controlling Leader
3 Results of Controlling Leadership
7 Reactions to Controlling Leadership
The obvious most frequent question I receive as a result of these posts involves what to do about a controlling leader? I previously wrote a post about “leading up” called 5 Ways to Influence those Who Lead You, but it addresses a leader who may not be giving you a seat at the table, but not one who is necessarily a controlling leader. Controlling leadership appears to be a more difficult issue. A leader who attempts to control everything within his or her realm is much harder to influence.
So, here’s my best answer. Here are three ways to respond to a controlling leader:
Challenge – Like it or not, most complex issues such as this do not disappear on their own. Ask yourself, “Will I be content if this environment continues for the next year or longer?” If the answer is no, then you may have to challenge the controlling leadership. It should be noted that you can’t challenge anyone daily. A challenge should be planned, considerate, and infrequent, but there are times where this is the best option.
Compromise – Most controlling leaders have areas in which they are willing to compromise. Much of his or her willingness to do so will be based on the degree of trust placed in others or how important an issue is to them personally. Building a relationship of trust and seeking common ground on issues allows some people to excel under a controlling leader.
Quit – If one is not willing to challenge the issue or can find no areas for compromise, the only solution, other than remaining miserable under controlling leadership, is to seek opportunities elsewhere. I had someone challenge me on Twitter recently that winners never quit, but I disagree. If you were placed in a position by a call of God, this may not be an option until God releases you and I personally would attempt the first two options before considering this option, but sometimes the best thing for the individual and the organization is to make a fresh start. (You might read my post 8 Ways to Know it’s Time to Quit.)
Let me offer this closing reminder: Every situation is unique and so no post can answer your specific situation. One thing that all situations share, however, is that regardless of how one responds, each of us have an obligation to be humble, kind, gracious people. In either of these three steps we should behave likewise. Also, remember that your response to a controlling leader often determines his or her response. Momma always said “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” The Bible says it another way…”A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
Have you ever worked with or for a controlling leader? How did you respond? What steps am I missing? Help us learn from your experience.