Podcast Episode 23: How to Break-Up with Your Inner Control Freak

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We spend so much time trying to control our career, performance, co-workers and what other people think.  In the episode, we’ll discuss: 

  • The root cause of your need to control
  • The two categories of control
  • Tips for how to manage your inner control freak
  • How to manage your controlling and micromanaging boss

When you feel your control start to take over. Pause. Seriously feel the sensation in your body and allow it to dissipate before you jump into action.

Read the Transcript
Hey friends, welcome back to another episode of The Career Refresh podcast. 

Today, I want to talk about being a control freak. And the number one? Thing I did that helped me Refresh my mindset around always needing to be in control. 

While there are times in which being controlling really helps. I am guessing that like me, you have high standards, you have a keen eye for quality, you’re efficient and super competent. are an achiever, crossing things off your list and getting it done. 

And depending on what you do for a living the control freak in you may help your personal brand and performance. People know that if you are on the project or the account, things are going to get done right the first time. 

Today’s emphasis is when the controller in you runs the show into the ground so to speak. 

We think we can control things. We think if we own and potentially micromanage every aspect of our career or the account we’re leading that we will be able to control the outcome. 

We try to control other people, their opinions, their words, the quality of their work. 

We want to control others’ thoughts and what they might think about us. See my episode on Other People’s Opinions for more deets on how that is a fruitless exercise. 

The world is out of control. Ok, I’ll buy your thoughts. Your team is out of control. Right now, we are calling it the Great Resignation and everyone is trying to keep, inspire, motivate and FIND talent. So I get it, Ok, I’ll buy your thinking on that too.

But there is nothing about these circumstances that you can change. Complete control can never be achieved. 

But your thinking is driving you to control more. You may be losing sleep or it’s sporadic at best. 

You can’t relax on your down time because you are spinning on all that needs to get done. 

You go global on your thinking fast and you look for all that’s wrong or not working versus what is working. 

And of course, if you are controlling everything, you are probably exhausted. Your high standards are pushing others away because they know that they will never please you. Then you want to numb out. So we over consume social media, food, and alcohol. This mindset and behavior keeps us stuck.

Your thoughts are causing you to communicate with words that are dripping with criticism, judgement, and micromanaging all so you can ward off that feeling of anxiousness. 

I have a client who is desperately seeking a promotion. And he’s pretty pissed that he hasn’t gotten recognized yet. Everything feels uncertain. He mentally questions everyone’s behavior. He looks for evidence of how things aren’t working out for him, and of course when we look for evidence we tend to find it. Then he walks around with a mixed bag of anxiousness, uncertainty, all wrapped in a blanket of anger. He laughs and says that the chip on his shoulder is so big he walks slanted. 

Ok, so it’s true that he hasn’t gotten promoted. But is it helpful to keep thinking that? 

There are other things he could be thinking, like what is working well at the job or he could be focused on the future. 

This isnt putting your head in the sand, it’s just knowing that what you focus on increases so we want to be acknowledging when we are thinking and feeling negative about something and then pause and decide how we want to refresh our thinking. 

Continuing to beat the drum of what’s not working leaves us more anxious. 

When we spend our time and mental energy on uncertainty and review all the things that are  not working versus what is working, we totally drain ourselves and push away others. 
I had another client who kept telling me all the things she is doing to manage and motivate her team. She can’t understand why they are not taking the work more seriously and as a result she is micromanaging her team. 

Occasionally the team jumps the box and goes to her skip-level for support and feedback and she tells me this causes her so much stress, anxiety and frustration. 

She thinks, “Why won’t they just come to her?” 

I mean, I’m not in their heads, but I’m guessing that it’s probably because she has created an environment of perfectionism that the team doesn’t feel safe or comfortable coming to her with questions. 

Also, they are not causing her  the stress and frustration she feels. She is causing that. 

They are taking action, based on what they feel they need to do. Which is really a neutral action. It may be out of process but, the action is just a fact. 

We get to manage our minds and decide how we want to think about something. 

And I’ll tell you when we have controlling, criticising, or judgemental thoughts of others we don’t ever create the result we want. 

Because she is having the thought that “they should come to me first” she is creating a feeling of more anxiety and stress in her body. 

Then she is interacting with them from the place of anxiety and stress. 

This then further creates fear because she doesn’t want to look bad in front of her leadership.   
Control is a cover for anxiety. 
We are anxious and afraid that we are not going to get what we want or we might look bad so we are trying to control everything. 

We don’t know what is going to happen. 

Being a control freak is your approach to manage and control your anxiety. 

So what to do? 

You can be in what’s called primary control. That’s control over what you eat, your thoughts, how you set up your work space, and how you choose to mentally start your day. 

This is changing the circumstance to fit yourself. We can only control ourselves, our thoughts, feelings, and actions. But it takes practice. 

Secondary control is adapting to the things you don’t have control over. 
This is the ability to be the ability to flow instead of clenching, obsessing, and over-controlling. 

Call it acceptance or adapting. This is about changing yourself to fit the world. 

That’s the serenity prayer, accept what you can change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. 

When I first experienced the head injury I kept fighting to get back to my pre-injury function. 

I was not accepting that I had broken some pieces in my head, ok, my ear canals, and I wanted it to be like before. 

And I spent more than a few years in a victimy mindset. Why me? Why not me? 

There’s no arguing with reality. Even though I did that every day for years. 

Working with a coach, I was able to see in time that I had to put humpty dumpty back together in a new way, and that could be just as impactful. 

Today, I believe because of mindset and acceptance, I believe the head injury is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. 

And it’s where freedom lives. It’s not about giving up or not giving it your all. 

It’s about knowing there are so many things out of our control. Covid. Work. Other people. Falling down waterfalls and getting a head injury. 

This control because you think you know how something or someone should be. 

I’m here to tell you that acceptance helps. 

It’s not weak. It’s doing what you can do within your ability and then letting go of the control. 

It’s making a plan. Doing the work. Preparing for all the little things that might go wrong. 

But then letting go of what it might look like. 

That’s the freedom. That’s how you get sovereignty of self. 
We try to control everything. But it sucks our energy and our joy. 
I once had a woman on my team who re-presented every slide that her direct reports presented. She was a newly promoted director. But what got her here, won’t keep her here. 
She didnt know how to lead. That’s a topic for another time. That we so rarely support an employee’s transition as a leaders. We give no learning, development or strengths coaching to employees. Instead we just say, ‘you’re up!’ now perform.  How would you know unless you have help?
Back to this woman. The teammate would present the material, and then she would jump in and say it in her way. 
Her way was different but it didn’t add incremental value to the discussion. 
It just meant that every slide was presented twice. It drove the client crazy because every presentation took twice as long. 
I coached her on this and helped her see that she was creating an atmosphere where the team started to shrink because whatever they said wasn’t going to be good enough. 
Her new plan of action was to review with the teammate in advance and make sure they were hitting the highlights but emphasizing that they should do it in their own style. 
Once she released control, our client meetings became lighter and more productive. Everyone relaxed a bit. 
The client even publicly complimented her on and said that she could see how she was up-leveling her team. 
Freedom lies in the belief that other people are capable too; it just may not look like our way. When we don’t trust that they can do it, we are showing them that we believe they are not capable. Not very helpful or welcoming. 
Ultimately, the whole team stepped up because now they were all more visible. Everyone gets to rise to the occasion. 
It’s natural and completely human to want to control things. 
The outdated way of thinking is what do I want? And how can I control all these elements to get what I want? 
The more empowering way of thinking is how do I want to feel as I go through this? What’s possible? What do I need to be thinking in order to create that feeling? 
When you feel your control start to take over. Pause. Seriously feel the sensation in your body and allow it to dissipate before you jump into action. 
Find the acceptance in the moment. Tell yourself that this is happening or it has happened, so how do you want to think about it?  
When possible, delegate. Take the time to teach and train a teammate. When someone complains about a junior on their team so often a contributing factor is that they have not been properly trained so how could they know what’s expected of them? 
And listen. You may not be the best person to train them. My top strengths according to the Gallup CliftonStrengths are Futuristic and Strategic. Plus my brain is firing off a million ideas a minute. My old way of training people was more like “i cant slow the car down so jump on board and try not to get hurt”. 
This style doesn’t work for everyone and that’s not their fault. It’s not the way their brain works. Through strength coaching I learned that I have to reach out to meet someone where they are, then inspire them to run you. 
Or get a translator. I have a client who is both a Harvard and Yale grad. Her communication style is sophisticated, she works fast and at a very high-level. That’s what she’s paid to do. They need her solving those complex problems. 
The problem was in the translation of the vision to the action work. There wasn’t any. She was frustrated with the lack of movement. The team was  intimidated by her and feared asking for more details or any questions. Productivity decreased. But she couldn’t understand what was happening with her very smart and very capable team. 
We worked together to figure out whom she could deputize to work between her genius and the very capable but very junior staff. Delegating to a newly appointed deputy allowed her to stay at a high level while lifting up another person on the team who effectively became her chief of staff. The deputy was able to quickly translate her strategy and the almost immediately the team was able to get into action. 

And lastly, you may have to deal with a control freak or micromanaging boss, there are ways to manage him. 

First, figure out what his hot buttons are (surprises, planning, budgeting, excel spreadsheets with deleted formulas and manual input, if you are listening, love you! are and manage his insecurities. 

This is the time to over communicate. Say phrases like Got it. On it. Will update you once it’s completed. Bring him important information first before you share with others. 

Figure out what method of communication he prefers for communicating the project.  When I was managing large teams I could be in a 2 hour meeting and come back to 500 emails. 

My direct reports knew to send me a text so that I could quickly see when I needed to know. There’s no right answer, but it’s an easy thing for you to do to manage a boss. 

Second, if he’s a micromanager, get to a place of acceptance and in the short term, be a sponge. Suck up every bit of information you can and give him the benefit of the doubt. It could be because he doesn’t trust you yet, or it could be that he wants to make sure he’s trained you well. 

If he’s monitoring you extra closely and you want to know what’s up, ask. Often bosses are reluctant to address things head-on. I know, not ideal, but people are messy. But give each of you an opportunity to get clear and understand what’s behind it. 
Your ego may be a little banged-up but it provides you with an opportunity to create your own plan for improvement and discuss goals. So often I find that managers do not set goals for employees or they are really squishy and subjective. 

Over time you’ll build a track record of consistent and trackable performance. You can address with him what’s possible in your communication, collaboration, and working styles. Come from a future-self possibility, don’t complain about the past, instead look towards what’s possible.

This puts you in a proactive place to showcase your strengths and skills and that’s super empowering. 

From this place you can decide if you want to stay or go. But whatever you decide you’ll be creating your results from a place of confidence and that makes you pretty irresistible. 

You got this. 

Ok my friends. If you are interested in learning more about how I work with clients or you’re interested in Strengths Coaching, check out the show notes to get more information. 

Have a fab week. I’ll see you soon. 

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