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7 Suggestions for Challenging a Controlling Leader

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There are times when it is appropriate to confront authority. Jesus certainly did during His earthly ministry. Here are 7 suggestions on how to challenge a controlling leader.

After one of my posts about controlling leadership, I received this question:

Any chance there is an upcoming post or two on how/when/where to confront a controlling leader? Especially for those of us who have had it drilled into our heads from childhood to not question authority? Some practical, nitty gritty tips would be really helpful.

That’s a pretty big request and I’m not sure I can speak into specific situations with a general response, but I think it’s a topic worth considering.

I should point out that while I believe the Bible teaches to respect authority, I don’t believe it says we must ignore the abuse of authority. All children should honor their parents, for example, but respect is never an excuse for abuse. There are times when it is appropriate to confront authority. Jesus certainly did during His earthly ministry.

Here are 7 suggestions with how to challenge a controlling leader:

Discern the need – Pray about it. Talk it through with a select few you can trust with their confidence — emphasis on select few. You should make sure your perception of this leader is correct. Is it them…or is it you? Then ask this question: Is this my responsibility? Do I sense the burden to do this? Will it make a difference, and if not, do I feel compelled to do it anyway?

Consider the timing – When addressing any conflict, timing is everything. Pick a day when things appear to be going well — from the leader’s perspective. Find the least stressful, calmest time you can find. You want to catch the leader in the best mood possible. If necessary, schedule an appointment with the leader.

Plan your approach – What are you going to say? How will you say it? Will you do this alone or with someone else? You may want to write your response first and rehearse it. In stressful situations, I think it is okay to bring notes. It shows you came prepared and have thought about the issue. Make sure you show as much respect for the leader as you can. Balance your critique with ample and genuine compliments.

Bite the bullet – You can keep putting it off, but at some point you’ll have to approach the controlling leader if you hope to see a change. It will never be easy, but who knows that you were not put in this place for “such a time as this” — and by this point you’ve already discerned the need to do this.

Show love and respect – This can’t be over-emphasized. People don’t listen to people who don’t show genuine love for them or at least the respect the things or people they love. Most controlling leaders are hungry for respect…it’s part of their problem…so if you want to gain their attention, be respectful. (Again, because I know this is difficult for some people, but being respectful does not mean being silent, just as being meek or gentle does not mean being weak.)

Be clear and direct – Know what you offer to the leader that can add value to the team — and to the leader. Have some specific areas where you can collaborate with the leader. This is very important. Vagueness accomplishes nothing. Don’t make the leader wonder what you are talking about when you confront him or her. Talking around the problem will not be clear to a controlling leader. Most controlling leaders think their control is a sign of good leadership. They don’t realize they are the problem. You will not want to take this step to confront more than once, so make sure you are clear with the issues as you see them and how you want to help. If you’re going through the stress and preparation to confront, make sure you address the real problem.

Live with your consequences – You’ve prayed and prepared. This is not something you will do very often in your career. But, if you know you are doing the right thing, you confronted the leader with love and respect, you were clear about the problems, then the response of the leader is out of your hands. You can’t control the leader’s response, but you can control your response to the leader’s response. Be willing to live with the consequences of your actions. That may be the one thing you end up modeling for the controlling leader.

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