| |

I spent five years at Forbes writing about business and leadership, attracting nearly one million unique visitors to Forbes.com each month. While here, I assistant edited the annual World’s 100 Most Powerful Women package and helped launch and grow ForbesWoman.com. I've appeared on CBS, CNBC, MSNBC and E Entertainment and speak often at conferences and events on women's leadership topics. I graduated summa cum laude from New York University with degrees in journalism and sociology and was honored with a best in business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) in 2012. My work has appeared in Businessweek, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Aesthete and Acura Style. I live in New York City with my husband and can be found on Twitter @Jenna_Goudreau, Facebook, and Google+.

Contact Jenna Goudreau
ForbesWoman 17,992 views

How To Tame Your Inner Control Freak

“I consider myself an enabler more than a manager, but I’m also a bit of a control freak,” says Toronto-based Katie Taylor, 55, the chief executive of luxury hotel brand Four Seasons.

Intuitively and intellectually, Taylor knows that it’s good for her employees to have autonomy and decision-making power over bigger and bigger projects. That’s how they learn, grow and become more confident. But in reality, it’s not always as easy as it sounds. “We’re rewarded in our careers for doing things and taking control,” she says. “Type-A people assumed leadership positions on the playground. Early success gets supported by the overuse of the control-freak gene.”

So while Taylor may want to hand over the reins of a project for the good of the team, she still has to fight her instinct to make suggestions, tinker or take over. “Sit on your hands, if you have to,” she says. “Get yourself to that place.”

While the degree may vary, most professionals are familiar with their inner control freak—that nagging feeling that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. It generally manifests as the micromanager, the overworked boss who has trouble delegating, the team member who takes over everything or the perfectionist worker who becomes trapped in the details.

The inherent danger is that, over time, the demands you’ve placed on yourself will become so great that either your work or your health (or both) will suffer. Meanwhile, you end up frustrating and stifling the creatively of everyone around you, including yourself.

“Controlling people are controlled themselves by the compulsion of having to do it all and do it all perfectly,” says Paul Baard, Ph.D., organizational psychologist and management professor at Fordham University in New York. “You frustrate your own autonomy to make mistakes.”

In his research, Baard has consistently found that when workers have independence and the power to make their own decisions they are motivated, energized and physically healthier. However, if they feel powerless, productivity goes down and illness increases.

For the control freaks among us, Baard says every assignment is self-defining. Each piece of work produced by her or her team must be flawless lest she become vulnerable to criticism or feelings of personal failure.

“Most issues around control stem from someone’s subconscious desire to feel safe,” says Karol Ward, licensed psychotherapist and author of Worried Sick. “What’s at play is a hyper-vigilance, a need to know and be aware of all the possible elements that could go wrong.”

Constant perfection-seeking may fuel success for some—it’s not a bad trait in, say, a surgeon—but cripples it in others. Baard says he’s seen it lead to procrastination, missing deadlines due to endless revisions, and not speaking up in meetings for fear of being wrong.

He recalls one young man who was frustrated that his department was implementing his boss’s marketing plan, despite that he believed his own plan was much better. When Baard asked why they weren’t using his, he confessed he’d never even shown it to anyone because he was afraid it might not be good enough.

Post Your Comment

Please or sign up to comment.

Forbes writers have the ability to call out member comments they find particularly interesting. Called-out comments are highlighted across the Forbes network. You'll be notified if your comment is called out.

  • very useful article

  • Dennis Choi Dennis Choi 2 years ago

    I understand and I agree the points of making small changes and giving ownerships to the stakeholders. But what if when the task is under a time constrain? Shall the leaders still continue to take small steps?

  • Let go and let God in even the loftiest business decisions and you will discover that you do not need to oversee everything. “Do your best and let God do the rest” because He’s a lot smarter than we are!