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How to Work With a Control Freak

I read a great post this morning on the Brazen Careerist blog about the positive aspects of being a “control freak.” So far, the author has received mostly positive replies but at least one negative one from someone who despises the term. For those of you who hate the term “control freak” just chill out a bit and go with the flow. We’re not talking about some clinical definition that requires intervention and medication. We're affectionately referring to those individuals who care deeply enough about the job that they want everything done right.

But, even the non-clinical control freak can be tough to work with. Personally, I love it when control freaks work for me. Because they leave nothing to chance I know they will pay attention to even the minutest detail. They know their business cold so I know that I can ask them for almost any piece of information and they will have it. But, to fully utilize the capabilities of these people you might need to loosen the reigns a bit.
If you are a manager of a control freak, you’ll need to tame your own control freak tendencies. They don’t necessarily take kindly to management coming in and telling them how to do their job. Instead of telling them what to do, you might want to start out by asking them for their input. Chances are they will be one step ahead of you with great ideas, and they may have already started down the path of executing them.

They are great people to have on your team as long as you understand their particular quirks. They may ask their manager to be available as a “sounding board” or someone with whom they can collaborate, but they also reserve the right to reject your advice. Be careful about when and how you exert you authority. No one makes the right decision 100% of the time, but a culture where failure is unacceptable can stifle creativity. Unless you really need them to do things your way, give them the latitude they need to thrive.

One the other side, working for a control freak (also known as a micro-manager) can be one of life’s truly challenging experiences.

Here are a few tips for making the experience of working for a control freak work for you instead of against you.

Understand their position. If you’re new to the role or the boss is new, chances are that the micro-management and need for control is a temporary thing. The boss may just need to know more about what you can do or be trying to get a good understanding of the business. It’s nothing personal. My recommendation is to cater to their whims and see if the stage passes.

Know their hot buttons. If the boss seems to have micro-management tendencies that aren’t going away, it may be because they aren’t getting what they need. Looking back on one of the marketing management roles I held, I felt like a micro-manager. I was always asking for details on the campaigns that my people were running because I needed to track the return on the investment. But, in retrospect, the reason I was always asking for the information was because I needed it and wasn’t getting it. I could have put together a report for my people to complete once a week. But, it would also have been a great move on their part to stay one step ahead of me and put together their own report with the information that I was always asking for.

Release your inner control freak. If you are naturally a “go with the flow” type but you work for a control freak you have one of two choices. As I see it, you can either find and release your inner control freak or you could look for something new. I suppose you could also try to ride it out. Everything is temporary and your boss may not be around a year from now. Of course, you may not either if you refuse to take control of your own destiny.

Never let them be blind-sided. If you have a boss that is a control freak, never let them be blind-sided by anything. If something is happening that they could be asked about make sure they have the details. You absolutely will want to make sure that they have your side of the story as well. However, make sure you are also coming in with a recommended solution to the problem. If they think you are asking them to fix the problem for you, it will only exacerbate their need to micro-manage.

Never lose your patience. It’s obviously never a good idea to lose your patience with the person you report to or to your reports. There are some who feel that it’s alright to tell a peer to mind their own business when they are meddling in your world. Personally, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea because it can quickly set up additional obstacles to effective communication. I am always happy to hear ideas and recommendations from peers who have absolutely no experience in doing what I do. For tips on taking input from people who have no idea what they are talking about, you may want to revisit my post on graciously accepting input.

Good luck dealing with the control freaks in your life!

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