3 Results of Controlling Leadership

One of my pet peeves in leadership is the controlling leader. Because of that, I have written extensively on the subject on this blog.

Controlling leaders are in every type of organization — including the church. Some of my ministerial friends who have encountered this would say especially in the church. It could be a pastor, a committee chairperson, or a deacon who glories in their own power.

And, sometimes, just being fair, leaders control because they believe they are doing what’s best for the organization. Not every controlling leader, in my opinion, is controlling from a power trip. Granted, some are, but many just naively believe if they don’t control things will fall apart in the organization.

I recently worked with a church where I witnessed a controlling leader firsthand. Talking to members of the staff it reminded me of the main reason I’m so opposed to controlling leaders — because it is counter-productive to creating organizational health. And I love healthy organizations.

But, I would even go so far as to say controlling leadership violates some important Biblical principles — especially in the church. The Body is not comprised of one — but many ones — who work together to build the ONE local church. To do it any other way tramples on a lot of truth.

In terms of organizational health, there are some common disruptions from controlling leadership.

Here are 3 results of controlling leadership:

Leaders leave – You can’t keep a real leader when you control them — at least not for long.¬†I find that especially true among the younger set of leaders entering the work world. Leaders need room to breathe, explore and take risks.¬†Controlling leadership stifles creativity. A genuine leader will soon look for a place they can grow.

Followers stay – The flip side is equally true. You can keep those who follow the rules many times under controlling leadership. They will stay because of loyalty, or a sense of responsibility, or just because they don’t realize there is any other kind of leadership. But their fear of venturing out on their own keeps them under the leader’s control. And, most often their work life is unfulfilled and they are often miserable.

Organizations stall – The real detriment of controlling leadership is that it always limits the organization to the strengths, dreams and abilities of the controlling leader. One person — one leader — can only control so much — so many people or tasks. It’s one reason we see churches plateau and a business’s growth stagnate.

Dear leader, take it from a leader who has to discipline himself not to control — controlling leadership simply doesn’t work.

Have you learned that principle, perhaps the hard way?

Have you worked for a controlling leader?

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20 thoughts on “3 Results of Controlling Leadership

  1. Great post.
    With a controlling leader, the most important objective becomes protecting the leader's reputation at all costs. The second most important objective is to quietly remove all dissenters.

  2. Yes, I have worked for a controlling leader a couple of years ago and I agree with every word you wrote. Leaders like these sometimes call themselves "visionaries" and if you don't agree with them it means that you don't have "vision". I would add that this kind of leader is usually intimidating and people don't feel free to share their thoughts, especially if they desagree with the leader. This sort of leadership has caused a lot of damage to me.

  3. For as “simple” as this list is it is also comprehensive. Most additions could be sub-categorized under these three. For example, my addition could be placed under stalled organization. Most controlling leaders experience a lack of genuine accountabilty; as well as constant hurt from those leaving or those semi-committed followers staying yet not being totally sold out.

    • Thanks Mason. You are right. I think the lack of accountability leads to a lot of this…which is why we see it in so many churches.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  4. I would like to add the following to your list of the results of controlling leadership:

    — will not to able to make the most of every opportunity
    — will not be able to reap the benefits of full potential
    — will tend to miss the bus for sure
    — collapsed team morale

    Sadly, often the insecure leaders act as controlling leaders due to their narrow mindedness and fear.

  5. Well put Ron. Another result of controlling leadership (or worse, it’s uglier big brother, Toxic Leadership), is a lack of sustainability. Controlling leaders can drive short term results easily (overtime until burnout, using next term’s budget prematurely, etc), but often fail to maintain that success over time (people leave, budgets dry up).

    A great reminder that real leaders do not control, they serve. Thanks for sharing Ron!
    Twitter: BLichtenwalner