Wednesday, September 6, 2023

On Real Control Freaks and True Leaders: The Difference Between Being Controlling and Being in Control

Sculptures from Montreal Notre-Dame Cathedral
There are those that we often pejoratively refer to as “control freaks” and then those whom we call, more favorably, perfectionists, but they are in fact not that far from each other and if they are not the same, they are at least closely related and on the same spectrum. You certainly may know some yourself, or you yourself may perhaps qualify as one.

To put it simply, these are people who must have it their own way no matter what regardless of the circumstances, and will give or leave you or themselves for that matter not much of a choice; it’s either what they want, or else, it’s the proverbial highway. And if you like me do not own a car, you must hitchhike all the way there, perhaps with your own baggage in hand.

In fact, those who try to control others the most tend to be the ones who have less or little control over themselves. To cover up their own internal loss on or lack of control, they become more controlling of as many aspects and people in their lives as humanly possible. It is a matter of externalizing and projecting their fear and discomfort onto others. Since they are not able to deal with and handle their own feelings, they give a semblance of control by controlling others and/or outer circumstances. When people or things do not comply, they get all angry and all hell could break loose, literally, and figuratively speaking.

And yet, not only does this attitude and worldview often not get them where they want or at times nowhere in particular, but they will also make a few enemies along the way. Naturally, things in life often do not go according to plan, and worse, you might have already experienced Murphy’s Law in the flesh and in person or shall do so soon enough: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong given the necessary time and space.

To illustrate, you have painstakingly prepared the best picnic ever to gain everyone’s praise and admiration by ensuring that all conditions have been met, confirming with everyone, ensuring that there is no lack in terms of food, drink, and music, and you have not one, but two back-up plans handily at your disposal. You even double-checked, no triple-checked the weather on five different weather networks, and it was clear and smooth sailing and a sure go.

Then the unexpected occurs, which you could not have possibly foreseen but you naturally still blame yourself for not expecting it in the first place. And the picnic turns out to be a total disaster and you swear never to have another one ever again until your dying day. Ironically, on that day, your sworn enemies may have one around the vicinities of your grave but that amounts to pushing the metaphor too far and beyond.

Now, being a control freak or a perfectionist is not all bad either. Your constant anxiety will keep you on your toes and make sure that four out of five times, you will be successful at your endeavor, be it of an extracurricular kind and nature or be it work-related. And since control freaks tend to seem and appear that they have it all under control (which they evidently do not, see above), their supervisors will be impressed and will promote them unwittingly (or perhaps wittingly) hence extending the vicious cycle that will catch and entangle everyone else as well.

At the workplace, the now-promoted control freaks (who are more often than not narcissists and sometimes even sociopaths) will make all other employees suffer from the dreaded and dreadful acts of micromanagement. (In fact, only control freaks like and relish in micromanaging and it must have been invented and approved by one of them.) You cannot go to the washroom or breathe without their permission and blessing, and they try to mold their surroundings as closely and faithfully to their own internal mess.

Yet, the irony is double. First, control freaks are not in control even if they think and assume they are, and two, they do not have lasting control over others. Put differently, they are not free because they are simultaneously being controlled and controlling themselves and others, and they do not qualify by any possible stretch of the imagination as leaders.

Not only will others feel undervalued and underappreciated and be resentful towards these types of “directors” (i.e. dictators) or “managers”, but the moment these unnatural supervisors are out of sight, the employees, students, and children will do as they please or fully and joyfully engage in what they were previously told not to and were prohibited from doing, and tenfold so!

The whip may look good, but without cubes of sugar, it can only be skin deep. In reality, not only do control freaks not have control and power over others, but those others will rebel the first moment and opportunity they see fit. Since the control freak knows this, she or he lives in constant fear and paranoia, trusts no one, and always looks behind their shoulder, at least twice and once before falling asleep.

And then, there are those who are in control. In many ways, they are the exact opposite, and yes, they are true leaders. This is so because they act from a calm center and perhaps have even attained lasting inner peace. They are grounded, stand their ground, and are not easily perturbed.

At the same time, because they are in control of their feelings and are not being run by them and certainly do not need to fear them, they have deep and profound trust and confidence in themselves, and this freely emanates onto others. The inner world will be projected onto the outside yet in this case, it is not passive-aggressive vibes and energy, but it is in harmony, it flows naturally and beautifully, and is in the best interest and for the profit of most if not everyone involved.

In fact, you ought to trust yourself first to be trusting of others. If you are in control, you are not blindly driven by the desire to please others nor to impress others constantly but rather, since you know your salt and worth, you become and embody confidence. Others will respect you not because you tell them to do so or drum, beat, and flog them into it, but because it flows from and out of them naturally without being forced, controlled, or manipulated.

By not trying to impress, they impress because that is actually rare and impressive in this world; by not trying to control others, others will follow them willingly. This is also the breeding ground for respect, which, contrary to popular opinion, is not automatic and cannot be demanded or imposed but must be earned with either one’s actions, one’s essence and being, or ideally both. And the same way you will not betray your friend if you are a good, honest, and decent person, then they do not have to fear being stabbed in the back by you unless you qualify as a control freak yourself (see above again).

Since they are in control of themselves, they can also relax, they do not have to pretend, lie, impress, or impersonate others, and they have the ability to see others the way they really are and not the way they wish to them to be or would like to see them. There is a sense of realism that accompanies such an individual because they can see situations and people the way they are and can act accordingly.

There is the mistaken notion that a person in control can easily become a pushover. It is actually the opposite. The ones who lack control can be easily swayed and influenced, which is why if you know the sweet spot of a narcissist for instance, you can get your way with them until they think that you have betrayed them or become disloyal to them.

Keep in mind that control freaks and narcissists tend not to see reality as it is but are constantly gazing through layers, filters, and shades of their own insecurities. Inversely, some of them would hold onto their views no matter how wrong they are only to prove to themselves and others that they are capable of not flinching while harming everyone in that process due to their lack of common sense, empathy, reason, and humility.

Yet, the person in control is confident in their own abilities and in their actions. As I mentioned earlier, they stand their ground and although they are often gentle, something the person out of control finds very hard to do, at the same time, they can be firm and steadfast when the situation or occasion requires it. In either case, deep inside they know what the right action is under the given circumstances, and they are not afraid of what others may think of them. They also tend to deal with adversity and opposition much better because they do not take it (too) personally. They know it is as natural and inevitable as rainwater.

Finally, the person in control is aware of and knows that their control is limited. There are certain things that are outside of their grasp and control. They know this and they accept it and do not fret over it. We have seen it with the pandemic recently. Those who are control freaks took a long time to adjust to the new normal and to accept the different circumstances while those in control looked for actions and measures that could be undertaken and that would provide them with the safety they needed.

They were not driven by fear but took the situation seriously and approached it with a calm mind. And then, when the time had passed and the situation had become less threatening, they just moved on and did not remain bound to the fear and fright that characteristically tends to accompany the ones that are controlling and that are inextricably bound to themselves and others.


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