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?

5 Roadblocks of Good Leadership

I’ve witnessed many leaders, including myself at times, get distracted from good leadership. Many times it’s a natural occurrence. We aren’t feeling well physically or emotionally. Life struggles distract us for a season. There are unavoidable distractions for any leader. It’s the distractions we can avoid which tend to be most frustrating and can become roadblocks to good leadership and organizational health.

Have you ever encountered one of these 5 roadblocks to good leadership?

Abusing power rather than extending power to others – Some leaders try to control an outcome, but end up wasting the valuable talent of other team members. This roadblock always limits the teams possibilities to that of the leader.

Making excuses for a weakness, rather than admitting weaknesses and growing strengths – Some leaders never admit a fault or mistake even though everyone around them sees it. This roadblock ensures that underlying problems of the team are never addressed or corrected.

Favoring popularity over progress – Some leaders care more that everyone like him or her than about achieving the goals of the organization. When this roadblock occurs complacency and mediocrity become standards instead of excellence.

Holding grudges instead of building bridges – Some leaders get distracted by personal injuries, challenges or disappointments from others on the team. This roadblock results in turf wars among team members, where sides are chosen and the team’s abilities to effectively work together is limited.

Waiting for the perfect conditions rather than taking a risk – Some leaders refuse to take steps in faith; demanding that every potential problem be eliminated. This roadblock results in bored cultures and teams, slow or no growth, and eventual declines. The opportunity cost with this distraction is exponential.

Have you lived under these roadblocks of a leader?

Be honest: Have you been a leader with one of these roadblocks?

What roadblock would you add to my list?

The Question I Ask When Receiving a Complaint or Criticism

When I have complaints or criticism I ask a question:

Is it individual or representative?

In other words:

Is it one person with an problem or is it multiple people?

Is it a personal issue or a public issue?

Does this complaint or criticism represent one person’s opinion or is it representative of a larger number of people?

The answer is critical before responding. I know I can’t please everyone. Some individuals are simply going to disagree with the way I or our church does something. I will listen to the complaint and respond to even the individual criticism, but when there is a growing tension among the masses, the issue demands more attention. It may not alter my response, but it does alter the intensity of my response. I realize when a larger number have the same complaint or criticism that it may lead to a “bad culture that eats good vision”. (I wrote about that principle HERE.)

To read more of my thoughts on responding to criticism see:

5 Right Ways to Respond to Criticism

5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism

What do you think? Do you ask similar questions when responding to criticism?

7 Ways I Gain Influence with My Team

John Maxwell says leadership is influence. If that’s true, then how does a leader develop that influence with the people he or she leads?

Here’s how I gain influence with my team:

Treat people professionally and with respect - I expect to be treated likewise, but for me to demand it without displaying it doesn’t build influence, it fosters control. (I wrote a post about that HERE)

Take risks on people and give opportunities to fail (or succeed) – Several on our staff started their ministry career with us…in large roles. I like placing faith in people. If a team member comes to me with a dream, I’ll try to help them attain it. The risk is almost always worth the return.

Recognize and reward efforts – I try to find ways to invest in our team, based on the individual needs and desires of the team member. I’ve been known to be creative in rewarding a team member for doing exceptional work. I’m also not afraid to single out exceptional work for individual recognition.

Allow them to know me personally – I’m transparent. I try to be clear about my weaknesses and own my mistakes. I’m also not afraid to be the brunt of the jokes.

Be approachable - I return phone calls and emails to my team quickly. They can get in touch with me and on my schedule before anyone other than my family. I keep the door open when I’m in the office and welcome walk-ins. (I have candy in my office too!)

Be consistent and reliable - I keep lots of lists so I don’t forget things I’ve committed to do. I have an Evernote folder with each team member’s name on it for things relative to them specifically. I don’t make many promises, but I try to honor my commitments, even when it’s costly at times. If I tell a team member I’ll do something, I make it a priority in my schedule until it’s accomplished.

Help others achieve personal success - I love to learn a team member’s goals and help them achieve it.

Keep in mind, I’m not perfect and this is not an attempt to brag about my performance. As with all my posts, I’m trying to be helpful in developing your leadership. If you read this blog regularly you know that one way I improve what I do is that I annually ask my team to evaluate me. (You can find out about that HERE and the consulting I offer in that area HERE.)

Of course, my team is free to comment on this post as well, so that should humble me. :) Most of what I’ve learned in leadership came from doing the wrong things first. I think it’s vital to a healthy team that the leader be continually conscious of his or her need for influence and ways to improve upon it.

You may also want to read my post 12 Ways to Keep an Organization Small

What would you add to my list?

If a leader always…

If a “leader”…

  • Always has to be feared…
  • Always has to have the final word…
  • Always has to be coddled…
  • Never empowers others…
  • Never takes ownership for a mistake…
  • Never steps up to lead…

Then he or she is not a leader…

  • May have a title…
  • May be the boss…
  • May have power…
  • May draw a larger paycheck…

But is not a leader…

In fact, in my opinion, he or she may even need to get out of the way and let someone lead…

Have you known people with the title of leader who weren’t really a leader?

A Quick Tip for When You Can’t Find the Courage Needed…

Here’s a quick tip I’ve had to use many times in life…

When I can’t find the courage to do the thing I know I need to do…

Instead of trying to muster the courage…

I often need to renew or grow my passion for the thing that needs doing…

It’s a bigger picture approach…

Dave Ramsey says that if you want to get out of debt that you have to “Get angry about it...”

That’s the same idea here…

Emotions often fuel courage…

Grow your passion…grow your courage…

As an example, if you need to address a difficult employee situation, but don’t have the courage…fall more in love with the vision of the organization and it’s effectiveness, and you’ll find courage to have the hard conversation…

You take risks to achieve those things for which you are most passionate…

Think of it this way…if your child was in danger, you’d find the courage to save him or her, regardless of the risks involved…

Fall more in love with what you hope to accomplish and you’ll find more courage…

Are you in a situation now that is requiring more courage? I’d love to hear your story…

(I’ve written previously about the courage of a leader HERE and HERE.)

The Larger an Organization Gets…

Bad leadership is bad leadership. It’s usually easy to recognize.

It’s easier, however, to hide bad leadership in an organization, which isn’t growing. (I wrote recently that it’s easy to keep an organization small. Read that post HERE.)

The larger an organization becomes and the more growth, which occurs, the more bad leadership becomes apparent.

As an organization grows:

  • More people ask questions and challenge the process…
  • More decisions need to be made…
  • More and better systems are needed…
  • More people are required in the process…
  • More leadership development is needed…
  • More delegation and management is necessary…
  • More responsibility is placed on leadership…

…and the better leadership must be.

Continuing to grow an organization requires a growing leader.

How are you growing as a leader?

What is your personal leadership development plan?

Opinion question: Do you think some organizations often outgrow a leader’s capacity to lead well? Have you seen this happen?

7 Attributes of a Wise Leader

I write and speak a lot about wisdom. I think wisdom is critical to good leadership. Leadership demands consistent decision-making and a wise leader has developed certain attributes that protect the leader and the organization during this process. A leader learns wisdom from the personal experience of success and failure and from the insight of other leaders.

Here are 7 attributes of a wise leader:

Timing – The wise leader using sound judgement and is patient, knowing there is a right time to act and and there are times to wait…

Morality - The wise leader places a high value in character and integrity, knowing that ultimately everything rises and falls on these qualities…

Vision - The wise leader understands the value of a big picture, and therefore keeps an eye on something worth attaining…

Initiative - The wise leader is risk-taking and intentionally encourages innovation, change and forward progress…

Diligence - The wise leader continues in spite of adversity, knowing that reaching a goal is worth the struggles to get there…

Strategy - The wise leader realizes that no dream becomes reality without proper planning…

People - The wise leader knows that people are the key to any organizational or team success and works to develop and empower others…

Which of these do you need more experience in developing?

What am I missing? What would you add to my list?

Leading an Organization is Like Driving a Car

Leading an organization is just like driving a car…

Okay, it’s not exactly like that, but leading an organization is hard work, regardless of the size of the organization or even the strength of a team. It is often difficult to think through all the issues that the leader should be considering. I have found it helpful at times to compare organizational health and success to other things I may understand even more; things I do everyday. For example, I can consider the health of the team in an organization by comparing it to the dynamics of family relationships. This type exercise helps me clarify principles of organizations I might not otherwise think about and create a paradigm of leadership that hopefully makes leading easier. It’s simply a tool to help you brainstorm.

Recently I thought about how organizations have a great deal in common with the road system most of us use everyday. I began thinking how leading an organization can at times be like driving a car and it helped me process some issues relative to our organizational health.

For example, any organization has:

Freeways - Sometimes the organization can proceed quickly, with limited interruption. (We like those times.)

Potholes - Small things often slow the organization down, but progress continues. (We should take time to address potholes before they become major road damage.)

Detours - Often the organization is still heading for the same end goal, but may be forced to go at it from a different direction. (Too many times, instead of detouring we change our destination.)

Speed bumps - There are times we need to slow down, reflect on where we are, adjust our speed, and continue forward. (We can’t always keep the pace of the freeway, so we consider when a speed bump is in order.)

Exits - These provide a safe way off the freeway to refuel, relax, and readjust the direction. (We shouldn’t wait too long to find the needed exit, even if it’s for a short bathroom break! I learned that one from my wife :) )

Accidents - Accidents can be our fault or the fault of another, but they often set us back for a period of time. (See what needs repairing, what needs replacing, and when to call it a “total loss”.)

Flat tires – At times, team members can be injured by simply wearing out, a serious puncture wound, or damage caused by another. (Leaders should always be watching the health of the tires.)

Road signs - In every organization, there are signs which the leader needs to learn to recognize…when momentum slows, when people are stressed, or when the vision needs refueling. (Don’t ignore the directional or the warning signs.)

The list of these imageries could continue much longer. You could attach ideas to things such as stop lights, reverse, neutral, intersections, road rage, etc…anything that helps you think, but by now you should have the idea I’m working with…what other road illustrations could you make as they relate to organizational success?

You can carry these thoughts even further than I have, with how to address each issue, how addressing them with your travel would relate to how you address them in the organization, and how each one impacts you safely reaching your destination. Again, this is just a framework by which to help you think through more complex organizational issues about which you may not otherwise think.

Can you see how an exercise like this can be helpful in thinking through organizational health and success?

5 Tips for the Leader When Conflict Develops on a Team

As a leader, one of your primary roles is developing and maintaining the health of the team. What do you do when team members aren’t getting along with each other?  How should you handle conflict on a team?

I previously wrote “10 Tips for Handling Conflict“, which is directed primarily at team members individually working together to address conflict. What happens when conflict escalates to the point where a leader’s input is needed?

Here are 5 suggestions:

Don’t ignore - Conflict never goes away on it’s own. Conflict is a necessary aspect of a healthy team, so to avoid it keeps the team from discovering the best answers to issues and allows unhealthy tension to remain. I like to give conflict some time to work itself out among team members, but not long enough to disrupt the team’s progress or jeopardize the health of the team. When the team starts choosing team member’s sides of an issue and the conflict begins to be disruptive I know it’s time for me to address it as the leader.

Protect the vision – The vision of the organization or team should be the common ground for everyone on the team and it’s my role as leader to protect it. In times of conflict, I want to make sure everyone is still committed to that vision. I realize that some conflict develops naturally, just because of differing goals, objectives, and personalities. The leader must balance the bigger picture objectives. (Read THIS POST for more on that subject.) If the conflict involves a support of the vision or is disruptive to accomplishing the vision then addressing it becomes more serious. If the vision is fully supported, then conflict can be addressed among the individuals involved.

Talk it out - Once it is obvious issue is not resolving, as difficult as it may be, I like to bring the individuals in conflict together to discuss the matter of conflict. Make sure the conflict is clearly identified. Often there were simple misunderstandings that need clarity or viewpoints that a team member feels the need to express. At this point, don’t make the mistake of being too nice as a leader . (Read THIS POST about that subject.) Again, healthy teams and relationships involve healthy conflict and when it isn’t resolved or addressed it remains a stumbling block to the future health of the team. For this step, I like all parties to be in the same room when the conflict is discussed. Addressing an issue separately opens the door for misunderstandings and choosing sides and many times the discussion brings communication to the issue which helps solve the conflict.

Establish mutual respect – Sometimes team members have to agree to disagree if it’s not a disagreement at the vision level. The leader, at times, may have to serve as a third party mediator and should remain neutral in issues of conflict in order to maintain organizational health and keep the organization on track towards attaining it’s vision. The bottom line for me is that team members in conflict must be willing to respect each other and continue to work together, even if there isn’t complete agreement on an issue. Ask the question, “Can we move forward without this affecting the team?”

Move forward – After the issue has been addressed, the vision is secure, and mutual respect is established among team members, the leader needs to make sure the team moves forward from the conflict. There are times, especially in key leadership roles, where people can’t push past an issue and continue to work together, but most of the time conflict can make the team better, as team members learn to work together towards a common vision in spite of disagreements.

Leader, what would you add to my list? How do you handle conflict on your team?

Have you seen times where conflict produced healthy results? Have you seen conflict destroy a team? Share your experiences.