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4 Theories of How a Leader Becomes Controlling

By February 13, 2017February 10th, 2022Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership

One of the most dangerous forms of leadership, and one of the most frustrating, in my opinion, is the controlling leader. I’ve written about this issue previously, because I believe it is one of the leading reasons for stalled growth and low morale in an organizational or team setting.

Under a controlling leader’s watch, leadership development is virtually non-existent. Pride is rampant. Ideas are squashed. Momentum is curtailed. It simply never works well.

A friend of mine and I were discussing this issue. He works in the business world and his boss is a controlling leader. It has led to burnout for my friend and caused him to start putting his resume out. He’s done – he simply can’t take it anymore. I realize this business is going to suffer long-term, because the leader can’t let go of the reigns. As an outsider, it appears they will be losing a quality person if they lose my friend. At this point in the life of the business, it will be a devastating blow.

In the conversation, my friend asked an important question. “How does one become a controlling leader?”

Good question.

I don’t know that I can answer for every controlling leader, but I have some theories. I know things which trigger controlling tendencies in my leadership – and, I think if we are honest, all of us leaders can control at times.

These are just my thoughts.

Here are 4 ways a leader becomes controlling:

Faith – or lack there of

Typically, this leader doesn’t trust anyone except him or herself to do the job. They are afraid to release the vision to others, often because they don’t have faith enough either in others, or in themselves, or even in God. It requires faith to trust when you release control others will do as they are supposed to do. Especially in the church, trusting the body’s many parts is an act of faith that God’s plan works.

In terms of the church, our vision is shaped by Christ. He was the master at delegation. He obviously set the vision, but then handed the entire ministry over to His disciples. The ministry leader who struggles with their faith will always default to trying to make things happen on his or her own.


This leader has witnessed failure – either personally or in the lives of others. They are now leery of things going wrong under their watch and so they refuse to let anyone else take charge. Controlling appears to be the “safer” option.


These leaders thrive on attention they receive from the limelight. They have been motivated over the years by the name they can build for themselves. They want the power, prestige and privileges which come with leadership, so they shut down anyone else who may appear to be easing into a position of influence or gaining in notoriety.


Mostly due to a lack of confidence in themselves, these controlling leaders always believe the sky is falling. They see the glass as “half empty” and don’t want to take too many risks or chances. When everything is under their control they feel a sense of security.

I don’t know if any of us can answer this question as it applies to every leader, but these are some theories I’d suggest.

Have you ever worked with a controlling leader? Anything you’d add to my list?

Leader, do you have controlling tendencies? Do any of these apply to you?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Ron,
    Thanks for this post and for the tips abut how to stop being controlling.

    When I have learned to let go and stop be controlling I have actually felt a sense of release. All of a sudden the pressure and desire for control goes away. As a result, the people I work with get to shine and do their best work.

    Thanks for sharing this post and for reminding us to not be controlling. 🙂

  • spirituallyrelevant says:

    Wow – this is quite convicting Ron! I have seen at least three of the four truths presented here at work in my life over the years. I firmly believe underlying all of these principles is the hidden, sinister face of pride. Pride is most deceitful when he couches himself behind all of the "good works" he is doing for God or business. Thank you for this article…it has already helped me.

  • cherylstevensfl says:

    Scary thing is , this type of leadership can be so subtle , you might not recognize it until you are already burned out. It is not always overtly abusive, and more damaging when it seems to fly under the wire for a while. I would also add "manipulate people and situations in a subtle way" or something like that, to your list.