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Control freaks in organisations - a barrier or an opportunity?



It was commented to me recently, by a frustrated staff member, about the CEO of a small community organisation, that the boss was a “control freak”.

Ouch. It’s possible it raises some questions about the staff member, but it’s easy to assume a difficulty by the CEO to delegate.

Okay, we all know people like this – I might be one myself, on occasions. But where does it come from?

An inability to delegate, by a leader, creates a serious drag on the ability of the organisation to function to its potential as it destroys the morale of others to contribute. So why is it so common and what might be done to address it?

Well, let’s remind ourselves that in the cases of people like Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Michelangelo, their creative genius and intelligence also gave them the need to stop others from soiling their good work. But what about the rest of us – mere mortals?

For many people it’s likely to be about the limits of their knowledge. A control freak is often someone who limits the entire organisation’s activity to within the boundaries what they know. Such people are generally comfortable with minute operational requirements, but rarely consider strategic or longer term issues.  In other words, no one else, even a visionary creative genius or expert in another field, can be trusted to give advice or do something unless that person knows about its detail.

So what’s the cure? In many cases it may be incurable, but it remains a drag on an organisation and everyone else trying to achieve something more. However, I have a couple space inspiring stories as suggestions.

The first is from a story I read in Time Magazine years ago which announced that “humankind’s knowledge of the universe had doubled from use of the Hubble Telescope”. That’s a spectacular increase – double, wow! But if we think about how much we could know about the universe, it’s incalculable – so let’s say trillions of things are possible to know. But if we assume we've progressed from knowing one thing, to two things, the progress seems hopeless.

It’s the classic “glass half full” story, or is it “half empty”? The latter despairs at what we don’t know and curls up with the comfort of one or two known things – the control freak. The “glass half full” person will always win

because the unknown seems exciting, unending and open for exploration with other people helping out.

The second space story is simply to marvel at how insignificant we are by watching this video. It may not cure control freaks but if you are a positive and confident individual, feeling super small carries a reassurance that at least we can still make a difference with the spec we have.

Fraser Carson is grateful to have the opportunity to share knowledge and ideas through this blog. He is the founding director of, The Crowd, and Fraser is a marketer and communications expert, and a developer and commentator on online and community building issues with a particular interest and involvement in the Collective Impact method of working cooperatively.

Control freaks in organisations - a barrier or an opportunity?

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