Spotting Control Freaks

Posted on February 14th, 2013

I recently wrote an article on “10 Things that Kill Ministry.”  One of the things I listed as a “killer” was control freaks—those who try to control everything and everyone around them as a way of making themselves look and feel better.

Having had several conversations on the topic since posting that article, I thought I could offer these not to point fingers at anyone, but simply to offer indicators for those who lead so that attempts to circumvent a leader’s work can be avoided.  This is not an exhaustive list, but my personal insights from having served in churches and other organizations over the years.

Control Freaks (hereafter, “CFs”) are:

Highly critical.  They are happiest when complaining about something or someone.  They find it difficult to be positive.  If not careful, they can bring down an entire group and can often hamper a ministry. 

Controlling.  Well, yeah.  They like to be in charge…or at least think they are.  CFs often try various ways to control people and situations: passive-aggressive behavior, seeking attention, talking outside the group setting (so as not to be challenged), and what I call “deck-stacking;” that is, they like to stack the deck of opinion in their favor by recruiting others to support them. By doing so, they feel powerful and important.

Inflexible.  CFs are often inflexible.  This allows them to live by the illusion that they are in control.  A control freak will remain staunchly imbedded in his/her ways for no other reason than the need to be in control.  Even if they are wrong and know they are wrong, their actions will often remain inflexible for the sake of saving face. 

Always right (in their minds, at least).This is similar to being inflexible. In addition to always being right in their actions, they also feel a need to be always right in their reasoning and “logic.” To admit their thinking is wrong-headed would be tantamount to losing control.  In other words, a control freak must be – in his or her mind – always right in reasoning and modes of operating, lest they lose their illusion of being in control.

Unwilling to listen. You can already see, I’m sure, how each of these markers builds on the others.  A control freak will not listen to any voice of reason, no matter how convincing it may be or what level of authority behind the voice of reason. CFs are impervious to insight and will, most often, refuse to acknowledge their own fault.

Commanding.  I have met very few CFs who seek input, suggestions, ideas or support from another person – even (or especially) other control freaks.  They are focused solely on giving orders in attempts to look as though they know what they are talking about or doing.  Often, CFs live by the dictum: Appearance is reality.  That is, if they just look and sound authoritative, then others will jump on board and follow orders.  Sadly, that is often the case. I have found it to be true that those who most easily bark orders and choose not to include others in decisions are among the ones about which to be most cautious. 

Extremely insecure. For whatever reasons – lack of self-esteem, lack of love, the way he or she was raised, etc. –CFs over-compensate for their insecurity by making themselves feel better through control.  They reason: “If I can control this person or this situation, I am a better person, a stronger person, a person others will respect.”  The downside is that their control often does damage to others, leaving them feeling low self-worth, unimportant or ignorant.  Sadly, the control freak does not care what his or her actions or words do to other people or to a ministry. They find it hard to say “I’m sorry” and “You are right.”

Fond of change for the sake of change.  CFs often love change—and not in a good way.  Frequently, a control freak will introduce or support change not because the change is good and helpful; but because it allows him or her more control.  If confronted about the appropriateness of a change, the control freak will snap back “Oh, you just don’t like it because it’s different” or some such vaporous comment. But when examined closely, one can see that the change offered more control to the control freak, which makes him or her very happy, leaving them feeling even better about themselves.

Again, this list is not exhaustive; nor is it necessarily authoritative. It is simply my own experience.  I hope it provides some flags for which to be on the lookout.

All of this begs the question of how to deal with CFs. I am certain there are many ways to effectively handle them that are constructive and fair, but firm. How do you deal with Control Freaks?

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