May 30 2012

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The Difference Between A Leader And A Controller

Recently I received a request to talk about the difference between leadership and the control of others.  So what is the difference?  Do you lead or control others?  In leadership it may seem like there is a fine line between controlling others and leading them, but in reality they are completely different.  The biggest difference between the two is choice and accountability.

The Controller

The controller uses a completely different set of tactics than a leader.  They don’t give people the freedom to make choices.  They use threats.  For example, you may hear them say, “If you don’t do _______, I won’t do ______ for you.”  Or you may even hear them say, “You do this, or you will get it.”  You can fill in your own blanks.

Those who control others are very dominant on the outside, but insecure on the inside.  They have the tendency to control because they don’t trust their followers.  They don’t think people will follow them unless they are controlling over them.  The controller also uses manipulation and/or blackmail.  They tell people that if they don’t follow them, they will hold it against them.

The Leader

A leader on the other hand is quite opposite from a controller.  The leader teaches correct principles and leads by example.  They help their followers understand all the underlying principles as to why they do what they do.  Leaders get feedback and insight from their people.

Leaders have a different approach to leading because they feel that people will follow leaders if they do what is right. True leaders are not insecure because they are humble and know that they are doing what is right.  They know they are doing their very best.  Their is much more depth to a true leader.

What differences have you seen between controllers and leaders?  How do you work with a controller so that you can be successful?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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  • I find your comments of great interest. However I feel there are times when one is actually needing to ‘control’ in order to lead!!
    In your post you state
    ‘Leaders have a different approach to leading because they feel that people will follow leaders if they do what is right.’
    When leading an organisation this is or should be, the starting point. However there is an assumption here that people in the organisation will inherently be of the view or the inclination to follow or be a team player. Some employees can often be selfish in their needs and demands and in these situations the leader is then having to move into a more controlling mode so as to temper behaviours or attitudes of this nature and for the good of the whole organisation.
    I have found that from personal experinece in my early days of leadership I was very much a controller, Being new to the leadership role I felt I needed to know everything that was going on and if you control then the decisions have to come through you and there are less insecurities. I believe that the more experience you gain and develop as a leader the more confidence you have in your judgement and willingness to delegate to others and the more ‘trusting’ you become.

  • Chander Mohan Kohli

    Leader achieves by motivation and persuation where as Controller by all means foul or fair.

  • A Jourabchian

    Manager is a member and accumulator within the team and an ultimate Collective decision maker and not the least responsible .

  • Mark D. Stock

    I agree with these sentiments in general, but remember, there is a whole spectrum of different types between controller and leader. You can’t just label all controllers as bad and all leaders as good.

    Controllers can simply be inexperienced, as Ken alludes to, or they can simply be totally insecure, or often both. Leaders with doubts about their own abilities can extend this to insecurities about the abilities of their team, and so develop controlling natures to compensate. Of course the learning process is two-way, and critical feedback will help speed up the learning process.

    Great leaders understand the abilities of their team and put them to best use. They hire people with the best attitudes and skills. They are always aiming to make the sum of the parts exceed the whole, that is how they get value for money from their investment.

  • Nice points, I can offer a quick and easy acronym to characterise the underlying attitude of each to their colleagues: TLC (Leader) and TDC (controller).

    * TLC = Tender Loving Care, i.e. deep respect for & interest in the strengths and talents others can bring

    * TDC = Thinly Disguised Contempt, i.e. deeply suspicious / contemptuous / threatened by the strengths and talents others can bring, so just want things done their way.

    Others may prefer to split things finely and in a great deal more depth and detail, also OK (I’m not going to be a Controller here!); I like quick and easy as people can take away and use it to prompt deeper reflection.
    Nick McBain Clarity Coaching http://www.get-clarity.co.uk

  • I really like the conversation that is going on. You all make good points.

    One point mentioned, was that there are times when you need to be sure to control the situation. This is especially important when people are trying to dominate and drive things in a direction that things shouldn’t go. One clear distinction about that is that the leader may be controlling the situation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are trying to control the people. When I think of controllers, I think of people that are trying to control other people with manipulation or other negative techniques.

    Another point mentioned was that there is a spectrum between the pure leader and the pure controller. There are varying levels between each one. This is very true. Pure leaders and pure controllers are not very common because everyone falls somewhere in the middle.

    Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts!

  • Viswa Ghosh

    I do not believe there is any ‘either or’ rule (such as, Leader or Controller) where leading people is concerned, because every situation requires a different mix of behavior. Even Gandhi, a quintessential leader of masses, had to tell his elder son not to marry at an early age otherwise they would be forced to break their relationship. This had transpired after Gandhi had repeatedly urged his son not to marry before completing his high school.
    Nonetheless, let me expand on that – on “different mix of behavior”. Overall, a leader would like to empower others. Which means that every and any moment the behavior demonstrated by a leader would include ‘leading by example’, cajoling, dictating, discussing, explaining, envisioning, defining missions, coaching, teaching, even learning from others, etc. etc.
    Personally, I am comfortable with a coaching style and love those who prefer to be in the ‘trenches with the troops’ (like Paton and Rommel). I have always disliked those who ‘direct’ from their ‘corner room’. Most CEOs are precisely the latter type – “corner room” types. In the guise of ‘delegating to others’ they stay away from the trenches where their troops face blood and sweat.

    • Welcome Viswa,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on this post. You make some very good points. The pure leaders and the pure controllers are the extremes. Most people fall somewhere in between.

      Like you pointed out, I also prefer the in the trenches mode of leadership. It is much easier to follow a leader like that because you know that they are with you all the way.

      • Bronwyn

        This topic hit the nail on the head! I feel that people think I am of the controlling nature, that I control situations. Sometimes I do but unintentionally. I think people get frustrated by it because they don’t have the ability to do this. (This is my opinion.) I like to take control of situations at work because then I know it’s done correctly. However, I am currently working as a cashier (a very busy one) with 2 other girls and I know that I lead or control them because I can see how things work and can be done at a faster pace if I set the path. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I know it annoys them and I’m relaxed about not always being ‘the silent delegator… ‘ I know I work harder than them so I tend to get on with it -and have a pattern to my day. I don’t think it is fair to have something against people who lead/control situations because it’s just who they are. You can’t please everyone. I must say though I have had a few jobs (some great, some not so great) but I have always had difficulty in the work place ???? How to get past that, I do not know. It upsets me though. It’s generally a one-on-one problem, not a work orientated problem. It makes life very difficult. Any advice or suggestions would be amazing.

        • Welcome Bronwyn!

          Thank you for sharing your situation with me. It sounds like you are in a challenging situation. I have experienced situations similar to the one you mentioned and they are not much fun. My recommendation would be to do an internal self-examination to review how you talk to them and how they respond. Ask questions like, “Does their body language suggest they are not listening or that they are annoyed? Do you talk to them in a demeaning way? Could you explain things to them in a manner that would help them understand better? Would I like to be treated the way that I treat them?” By asking these questions, you will get a better feel for how they might feel towards you and how you address them. If you don’t like the answers you come up with, you may want to change your actions to work with them better. I hope that helps. Let me know if you have additional questions.

          • Bronwyn

            Hi Brandon,
            I hope you are well.
            Yeah their body language suggests they just dont like me,I read body language very well!!!! Plain and simple. I am just doing my job in the work place, I am there to work, not make them happy or try make them like me. I was very nice to them in the beginning but I have not received the same treatment back,and so now its hard for me to bother . Its mainly the kitchen staff who make waves. I need to find a better work environment, but in all fairness I think until I find my career path (or create it) , I will have to put up with the people that just don’t like me.Any tips on how to escape issues in the work place??? Its hard because the people that dont like me, win most of the time and I land up having to leave . I just want to work and everyone to go away.

            My boss’s mother also has a lot of issues with me being in “their family run business” lucky my boss does not feel the same way! His mother is not a very nice person and I have nothing against her whatsoever. I don’t understand her problem with me? My boss says nothing about it. (clearly he is male and is not that bothered!But I am, because this problem is an occuring one. ) A customer complained about my colleagues bad attitude the other day, and my boss’s mother swung the whole situation around on me and said I better start looking for a new job and why am I not answering phone calls…. bla bla bla blaaaa. I was in shock.I was living in the UK and didnt have as many minor problems. So I think a lot is dependent on the type of class of people and the job. Still looking back on my career path, it has not been a smooth ride. I would like change! I speak to people in a kind and caring manner, because I do care, and I am kind.! .. I actually prefer to be liked than disliked.

            Keep the useful advice going, I like your topics.
            Bronwyn 🙂

  • Nicholas Song

    Thanks this help me a lot now I understand the difference 🙂