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7 Suggestions for Challenging a Controlling Leader

After one of my posts about controlling leadership, I received this question:

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 and I’m not sure I can speak into specific situations with a general response, but I think it’s a topic worth considering.

I wrote previously. In my previous post I wrote about the 3 options with a controlling leader. They are Quit, Compromise or Collaborate. In order to get to collaboration — which most of us would want — there almost always has to be a challenge to the controlling leadership. This would be an expansion of the “challenge” thought.

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.

Here are 7 suggestions with how to challenge a controlling leader:

Discern the need – Pray about it. Talk it through with a select few you can trust with their confidence — emphasis on select few. You should make sure your perception of this leader is correct. Is it them…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 appear to be going well — from the leader’s perspective. Find the least stressful, calmest time you can find. You want to catch the leader in the best mood possible. If necessary, schedule an appointment with the leader.

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 – Know what you offer to the leader that can add value to the team — and to the leader. Have some specific areas where you can collaborate with the leader. This is very important. Vagueness accomplishes nothing. 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 and how you want to help. 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. This is not something you will do very often in your career. But, if you know you are doing the right thing, you confronted the leader with love and respect, you were clear about the problems, then 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. That may be the one thing you end up modeling for the controlling leader.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • chris says:

    the problems I’m having at my church in a conference meating I was ask if I would take over the church food bank. I said yes It was voted on. they voted to give me the job but the pastor never gave me a key to get in the church so. could have straighten out the food and paperwork. I wanted to get things in order. I was supposed to go to the food bank after Christmas to pick up more food. but Wed night when I got to church to my surprise the pastor and his wife went and maid the pick up and they told me that they would have called me but they had to leve in a hurry and did not call me cause they did not think I could get here fast enough to go I felt lied to and I’m really upset why nominate. someone to do a job in the church than why not get out of the way and let them do the job

  • One better way is to move on …
    Controlling leaders will be a thorn in our day to day life (and not only once)
    Better to moveon than to have strife in our life daily.

  • alszambrano says:

    Can't tell you how much I appreciate your thoughts. Its frustrating & demoralizing to be looking a problem you feel like you can't fix – but you know if you could do SOMETHING the church/organization as a whole would be better off.

    Having only been brave enough to give this a try once (hence my call for help!), I would add to this that you must steel yourself against the enemy's attacks as well. Upon confronting a leader, I always find myself feeling *guilty* for having done so. Pointing out a flaw in my superiors felt sinful – although I know I was calling this particular individual to honesty & integrity (certainly not sinful). The kind reminder was taken well by this individual, but I was still left dealing with the guilt factor. I found that talking to another coworker (who is very skilled in the area of a loving rebuke) helped alleviate those feelings and gave me some confidence in knowing that what I did was done for the best of both the organization & the boss.

    My coworker likes to remind me that our boss is also going through his own sanctification – and that if prayerfully and lovingly done, our confrontation of him can actually help him on his way to becoming more like Christ.

    So grateful for your blog & the wisdom you share!

  • Olavo Ribeiro says:

    The fact is that to live with a controlling leader is very difficult. Every conversation is difficult if you not agree with him/her.

  • In one past church, there was a controlling elder who basic words were, "It is either Bill or me." It was me who went. I am currently "facing" a former leader who is campaigning among the leaders that the church would be better off without me. I have the support of the elders and so I have allowed it to go. But if it continues I may have to finally meet him head-on or tell the elders they need to deal with him (since he has chosen to do an end run around me with his last email). Any suggestions? Do I or do I tell the elders they need to nip it?

    • ronedmondson says:

      If the elders are willing, I'd let them handle it. I see that as perfect for their role and less appropriate for yours.