Would you rather lead by controlling others. . .or by empowering them?
The answer to this question is pretty obvious. Controlling others gets a bad rap, and for good reason. Controlling behaviors can lead to manipulation, abuse of power, and boundary violations.
On the other hand, we do want to have “self-control” and we also know that God gives us influence in the lives of others. God has not given us a Spirit of timidity, but one of “power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Exerting power and owning the influence we have in the lives of others isn’t wrong—in fact it’s a tremendous responsibility given to us by God.
So, in week 2 of this series on the 7 most common protectors, let’s take a look at controlling others. What does it mean to exert control in a healthy way?
How do we move from controlling others to cultivating the kind of confidence and power that influences others in healthy ways?
Let’s start with the hard part. It’s a sign of health and courage to face one’s own habits head-on. With that in mind, here are five signs that a controlling protector has become extreme:
- You frequently criticize or nag others.
- You are excessively harsh or demanding in your attempts to get others to change.
- You are overly protective or jealous of your loved ones.
- You readily give advice, but find it difficult to accept the feedback of others.
- You find it extremely difficult to apologize when you’ve been wrong.
If you notice yourself struggling in any of these ways, your controlling tendencies have become protective. Your internal “controller” is keeping you from connecting to your own vulnerabilities by focusing your attention on fixing or changing others. And, ironically, it’s keeping you from playing a powerful role in bringing about the positive change you seek!
It’s good to want to have impact. It’s good to lead.
The trick is to learn when you’re attempting to control others to protect your own interests versus when you’re trying to empower others and influence them for their benefit.
If any of these signs stood out to you, take a moment to look inside. What are the fears that surface if you consider setting some boundaries with your tendency to control? For example, you might notice thoughts like these:
If I don’t exert my influence, I’ll lose my power and look weak.
If I show any sign of weakness, I’ll be proved a fool.
If I let someone in, they’ll take advantage of me.
Controlling others may give you a fleeting sense of power. You can get results by nagging others or demanding their love and loyalty. But make no mistake – if your controlling behaviors become extreme, you’re not owning up to a part of your own soul in need. And, as a result, you’re not actually cultivating the kind of impactful leadership that you – and those you love – need.
As you seek to move from controlling others to confident leadership, try any one of the following:
- Honor the part of you that doesn’t want to lose power. It’s a strong and important part of you that has developed to help you survive. At its best, this part of you seeks excellence, and it wants to keep you, and those you love, safe. Let that controlling part of you know that you get it . . . and that God is bigger and far more capable than you to achieve this lofty goal. By setting boundaries with your instinct to control, you will paradoxically become even more effective in leading others.
- Set some practical boundaries on your controlling instinct. Wait thirty seconds before giving someone advice. Or first ask them, “Are you looking for my advice, or should I just listen?” In doing so, you’re leading from strength and confidence—you’re recognizing and honoring the individuality of the other person. If you notice that your tone is harsh or demanding, pause for a moment and take a time-out. It’s rarely helpful to demand that someone change, even if you are right in your assessment of their behavior. Stopping yourself before speaking harshly will help you learn self-discipline. . . which is a powerful quality of a good leader.
- Own your human weaknesses before God. Face your own fears and insecurities head-on. If you want to lead others well, start with yourself. Make a list of your weaknesses and growth areas and read them every day. You don’t have to show them to the world. But your willingness to confess your vulnerabilities and fears before God will help you balance out your desire to change others. Confident leadership builds on a foundation of facing our own blind spots and areas of vulnerability.
A healthy relationship with control is characterized by self-awareness. It’s being aware of your desire to effect change even as you take into account a healthy respect for the individuality of others. When your desire to control others is at a healthy distance, you are first and foremost concerned with changing yourself. You’re in touch with your own human fallibility and aware of your vulnerabilities. It is then that you step up confidently to lead others.