Control freak manager frustrates employees

Dear Joan,
My manager is driving me crazy, so I hope you can help me. She is so “organized” that she tries to do everything—even things I should be doing. She will assign something to me and then when I’m half way through doing it, I find out she has been also doing the same task! I get so frustrated that I just stop doing it and let her do it.
I am supposed to be her administrative support person but it’s hard to support someone who won’t let you help her. Also, she will run around doing things that aren’t really efficient for her to do. For example, I will walk in on her in the copy room and find her running off things and stapling them. What a waste of time for someone at her level. I told her she needs to focus on more important things but she always says things like, “Oh, this will just take a minute…”
It makes me feel useless and almost like she doesn’t trust me to do it right. Otherwise, why would she be doing my job? Should I just look for a new job? Should I say something (although I’ve already tried with no results)?
I support two other people and they have no trouble letting me do the scheduling, copying, filing, and whatever, so I don’t think it is my skill level that is the problem. They say complimentary things about my performance. I like the company, so I’d rather not leave. The thing I’m most worried about is she will give me a bad rating on my review and that could hurt me. She has a lot of power in the company and is in tight with the higher ups. But I’ve heard she drives other people crazy, too. Someone told me her employees don’t even bother to challenge her because if it isn’t her idea, forget it. Can you give me any advice?
The good news is it doesn’t sound like you’re the problem. Your manager has some control issues that go beyond her relationship with you. The two big questions are can you do anything to change her behavior; and can you be satisfied working for your two other managers and put up with her controlling nature.
Control, in the general sense, is at the heart of much of our human behavior—especially at work. We want to know what work we are responsible for, who has authority over us, what steps we can take to get ahead, and so on.
If I were to guess, I’d wager that your manager has an overdeveloped sense of personal responsibility and accountability. I have run into many individuals who have risen in organizations because they get so much done. They start out as individual contributors and move up to manager levels. Their leaders love them because they do what they say they will do. Their personal credibility is high.
The problem comes when they are leading others. They are so compelled to deliver results, they either can’t stop themselves, or don’t choose to stop themselves. In the former case, the manager can’t control her urge to do the task. In the latter case, the manager enjoys doing the task because it’s tangible and satisfying to complete it. It’s easier than doing more strategic work, or working through other people.
Over-controlling managers sometimes don’t know how to delegate, so they just keep doing what they’ve always done: do it themselves.
When I work with over-controlling leaders, they have lots of justifications for their behavior—
  • It will take me more time to explain it than to just do it myself.
  • I’ve done this so many times, I don’t mind.
  • I’m the one who has the relationship with him, so he just wants to work with me on this.
  • I’m too busy to teach anyone how to do this.
  • I have the expertise—they don’t.
  • He won’t do it as well as I can.
Unless the she can be shown and convinced how this behavior is hurting her, she is unlikely to change. And if the behavior is compulsive, she may be unable to change—even if she does get feedback about how it is hurting her. For example, I have seen situations where a leader was unable to let go, even after his boss made it clear he was a bottleneck and underutilizing his staff. In the end, his boss pulled people out from under him and reduced his responsibilities.
I recommend that you say something the next time you see this behavior. Here is a suggested approach: “I was working on this because you asked me to, and now I see that you are working on this, too. When you do this, it makes me feel that you don’t trust me to handle it, or that I won’t do a good job. “[Listen to her response.]
“I want to be able to assist you, like I do with my other two leaders. When you do these tasks it takes up time from more important things I know you need to do. Little things don’t take much time but when you add them up they do. Can I suggest an agreement between us? How about when I see you doing things like copying reports, I’ll say, “Is this the best use of your time right now?” That could be our code for reminding you I can do it for you.”
If that doesn’t work, after repeated attempts, let her do it and give your attention to your other two leaders. Without straight feedback from her manager, and perhaps the support of an executive coach, you won’t be able to solve this on your own.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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