The Cost of Control: What You Lose When You Try to Control Everything 

By Ann Elliott

Controlling Sergeant Pointing and Barking Orders

Some years ago, I resigned as General Manager of the Universe. It became obvious to me that people didn’t appreciate my efforts to control everything to make everything just right. Everyone would have to handle their stuff the best way they could, and I would take care of my stuff the best way I could.  Given the amount of responsibility, the pay wasn’t all that great either. Plus, the stress was enormous.

We only control a small fraction of what happens in our lives. Yet, many of us invest significant time, energy, and resources trying to control things that are simply beyond our control.

This tendency to want to control everything is a prevailing way of thinking. It’s particularly common among business leaders who feel the need to control every aspect of their operation, from the actions of their team to the results they achieve. However, this mindset can be counterproductive.

Micromanaging to control everything puts a significant drain on your time and resources. It stifles creativity and innovation, as team members feel constrained by rigid guidelines and are unable to take risks or try new things. Your team knows you will tell them what to do so why bother contributing their ideas? Just wait to be told what to do.

By setting clear goals and focusing on your own actions and reactions, you can take charge of your own life and make progress towards your objectives. A surfer cannot control the waves. They learn to become a great surfer to deal with whatever waves they encounter. 

I’m reminded of a story from my friend, Mary, that highlights an all too common issue in the workplace: the lack of trust and respect for those in leadership positions. Mary had responsibility for a project in a small company and had a team of three or four people to execute the project. She gave clear direction and her team understood what was required to get the job done. The team was making good progress.

However, Mary’s boss entered the scene and took over. He disregarded everything Mary had told her team to do. Mary didn’t stay with the company for long. She did not feel trusted or respected despite bringing great credentials and experience to the work. By taking control, Mary’s boss paid a high price in losing a valuable employee.

This situation highlights the importance of trust and respect in the workplace. When leaders don’t trust their team members and don’t respect their expertise and experience, it creates a toxic work environment. When employees feel undervalued and unsupported, morale suffers.

Empower team members with autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their work. When employees feel trusted and respected, they are more likely to be engaged and productive. This, in turn, leads to better results for the company.

In short, leaders who want to create a positive work environment trust and respect their team members. Doing so not only benefits employees, but it also benefits the company as a whole.

What is the Cost of Being Controlling? 

It’s impossible to control everything. Trying requires a significant amount of energy to maintain that level of control, and people around you are unlikely to take responsibility for their actions. Others become resentful, too. It’s like trying to teach a pig to sing. It frustrates you and annoys the pig. Controllers often achieve their goals by pushing people, rather than engaging them in an exciting vision.

This approach undermines relationships with others. While it may lead to temporary results, it’s not a sustainable way to achieve long-term success, especially if you need the help of others to reach your objectives. The pursuit of control can often lead to frustration, disappointment, and even burnout.

Additionally, being a controller means that you don’t allow others to lead you. You’ll do whatever it takes to avoid being controlled. As a result, you do not make a very good follower. However, we all need to follow someone at some point in our lives.

In the end, the cost of being a controller is simply too high. Leaders who focus on empowering their team members, building strong relationships, and fostering a culture of trust and respect enjoy a higher level of success with less stress.  They create an environment where everyone can thrive and achieve their goals together. 

What Does the Need to Control Come From? 

Controllers often exhibit a lot of swagger and bravado, which can mask their fear of being controlled by others. It’s not uncommon for controllers to have grown up in situations where they were forced to take charge at a young age, assuming the role of the adult in their family just to get by. Growing up in a family with alcoholic parents, for example, it is understandable the need to take charge to control the chaos surrounding them. This behavior can also stem from past experiences of hurt, rejection, or betrayal, leading them to believe that they must control everything in order to protect themselves.

While this may have served as a means of self-protection in the past, it’s important to recognize that controlling behavior is learned and can become a harmful thinking pattern. The need for control often leads to impatience and high levels of anxiety when things cannot be controlled.

 Releasing the need to control leads to more positive outcomes. It allows for collaboration, the sharing of responsibilities, and the building of strong relationships. Learning to trust others and empowering them to take on leadership roles creates a more effective and sustainable approach to achieving success.

While it’s understandable to want to control our environment, it’s important to recognize the limitations of this approach and the negative impact on ourselves and those around us. Instead,  take the advice of my mother, “If you take care of yourself, you’ll have plenty to do. Let others take care of themselves.”  This allows us to focus on what we can control and gives others the space to take ownership of their own responsibilities and contributions. This creates more positive and productive relationships and achieves greater success in the long run.

How Can You Stop Being a Controller? 

While we may want to be in charge of every aspect of our lives, the reality is that we have limited control over what happens around us. However, we do have control over our own thoughts and actions. What difference would it make to recognize when our desire to control things arises and to acknowledge that it’s not a healthy or productive mindset?  This destructive thinking pattern ultimately holds us back. The first step is awareness of how costly this negative thinking pattern is to us and those around us.

How Do You Lead Without Control?

To be successful in any aspect of life, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of your values and direction. Think of it as your North Star, guiding you toward your goals and aspirations. This is particularly important for business leaders who must create a cohesive team and set a standard of behavior that everyone adheres to.

For instance, honesty and integrity are non-negotiables for any successful business. Whether you’re a partner or a janitor, if you lie, cheat or steal, you have no place in the company. As a leader, it’s important to communicate these values to your team and hold everyone accountable to them. With a culture of trust, respect and accountability you are in a position to create long-term success without the need for control.

Five Benefits When You  Release Control of Everything

Focus on building strong relationships based on trust, mutual respect, and shared values. This is a more effective approach in the long run and helps to create sustainable success.


When you expend energy on your own responsibilities, you focus your attention on your most important priorities. You achieve more with less effort because it is focused on the right things.


Invest your precious time where it matters most. Take the time to determine your priorities. Do less to achieve more.


Trust your team to do their jobs., Additionally, by being open to new ideas and different ways of doing things, you can generate more revenue and grow your business in unexpected ways.


By being open to input and feedback from others, you build stronger connections and achieve better outcomes.


When you hire an expert, consultant or coach, be open to learning from their expertise and experience. That’s why you hired them. Get the most out of the relationship with reciprocal respect and trust.

Your Own Well-Being:

 Reduce stress and improve your overall health and happiness because you have much less to manage. 

Stop It

In the Bob Newhart Show, there’s a hilarious clip where he tells a woman in two words how to overcome an irrational fear of being buried alive in a box. This simple but profound message applies to leadership too – sometimes you just need to cut out the destructive thinking and behavior that’s holding you back. Focus on what you can control – your thoughts and actions. Remember, the outcome is ultimately out of your control.

The Bottom Line 

The good news is you can learn to identify your controller saboteur (and others) that hijackyour thinking and your actions. Without guilt, remember this learned thinking served you well at one time to protect you. Keep in mind it is a bald-faced lie that you can control everything and must control everything for it to be done right. 

In times of crisis or chaos, the command and control way of leading is needed. Having a controller saboteur is a strength taken too far that becomes a detriment. 

Discover your saboteurs with this free self-assessment from Positive Intelligence Once you know the mental blocks holding you back, discover how to shift your mind from fear to fierce with compassion, creativity, curiosity, and action. 

Reach out to me at [email protected] to review your assessment results. Learn how to develop your Mental Fitness for peak performance with less stress. Accomplish more with ease and flow.

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Ann Elliott

Ann Elliott, founder of The Berkana Company, excels at leadership strategy

An expert at helping business leaders enjoy more profits and improved productivity with less stress, she blends fun and excitement with executive coaching and training to yield results for her clients.

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