7 Ways to Free Yourself
from a Controlling Leader

by | Jan 17, 2024

Controlling leaders are out of style…not to mention ungodly! I’ve heard it said that you can control, or you can lead…but you can’t do both. I believe this. Because to control is not really to lead. The greatest leaders know that their role is not to control, it is to inspire and to influence. The power of influence will always be greater than the power of force.

I have been in leadership for a long time, and have not only led but observed thousands of leaders. Something I have taken note of in the past few years is that controlling leadership is not just quickly going out of style…it IS already out of style. Controlling leaders are on their way out!!  Authoritarian leadership is soooooo yesterday, and today’s younger leaders, in particular, will not stick around for long. And no, it’s not due to a lack of respect for authority or a lack of submission! (Controlling leaders like to throw the word submission around a lot, fyi.) It’s because people are getting smarter, and because they know better, they do better.

Hopefully, we are learning more about personal health, leadership health, and not needing to check our brain at the door just because we’re a Christian. Blind obedience is no longer in vogue. Today’s people aren’t looking for someone to tell them what to do…they desire a leader who will lovingly lead and guide, not strong-arm them into doing whatever it is they want them to do. I think Jim Jones would have a little tougher time today carting the people off to Guyana and giving them the Kool-Aid.  And that’s such a great thing.

Maybe today you find yourself in a situation with a controlling leader and you’re not sure what to do about it. I am going to give you 7 things to do if you find yourself dealing with a leader who is a control freak. They are not the only ways, but a few good ways to address your control freak situation.

Assess the Situation

Write down and analyze what has happened. Be careful to not just go by what you perceive has happened or what you think that person “might have said” or “might have meant” but write down and consider the actual words that were said or the specific action that was taken. Who said it? Where did they say it? In what context did they say it? Write it all out.

Attempt to Talk to the Controller

Often you will not be able to effectively do this, because controllers typically don’t think you should have a voice. They don’t care about your side of things. They believe they are THE VOICE. They believe they are “THE ONE” — the only one with any real clout in the situation. And unbelievably, they will often spiritualize this and believe GOD has bestowed this distinction on them as the only one with a voice in the situation. Nevertheless, you need to attempt to address things with them at least once, because first of all — it’s the right thing to do Scripturally, (Matthew 18), Additionally, you will have checked this box when someone asks, “Have you tried to talk to them directly about this?”  You can say, “Yes, I have, and this is what they said…” I do want to say that I realize these conversations (especially with controlling narcissists) are excruciating. It’s good to have a prayer team to back you up when you are going to be having this conversation.

Document Every Incident

Write it all down — dates, times, situations. Keep track of the facts. You may need this document later on and wish you had it.

Set Boundaries

Anyone who expects you to ask “how high?” when they command you to jump is not a safe person. In many cases, you are not only dealing with someone who has a weakness with control…you are facing an abuser. Set a boundary line to let the controller know, they do not own you. The controller doesn’t need access to you 24/7. You may have to be around them (if you work with them, etc.) but they do not need an all-access pass to you! You do not have to pick up the phone immediately every time. You do not have to open their email message on the weekends, or all hours of the day and night, or AT ALL on social media. Furthermore, you do not even need to be their friend on social media. You do not have to accept their friend request. Controllers are used to bullying and getting their way, and insisting that people do things like answer the phone immediately when they call or text them back instantly. Don’t give in. Push back. Draw a line and keep it.

Reach out for Support

It is not wrong to seek support when you are dealing with ungodly control. Reach out for professional counseling when needed but also for the support of friends who will understand. There is strength in numbers. It is helpful to have friends who can walk with you through the journey of dealing with a controller and extricating yourself from one. Sometimes getting free from your controller is a group effort. Be prepared for your control freak to try to use the Bible to shame you for this if they find out that you have reached out for support. They may twist scripture and accuse you of gossip or division because you have reached out for help. Do not fall for it and do not allow yourself to internalize that.

Pray a lot!

The Bible tells us to pray about everything. (Philippians 4:6-7) Additionally, the Bible tells us that some things only take place by adding fasting to your prayers. (Matthew 17:21) .Fast and pray your controller out! Maybe you have been thinking about leaving…but what if they are the one who needs to leave? Ask for God’s perspective on that. Is He calling you to make a shift? Or is He asking you to prayerfully wait and intercede for God to shift your controller out?

Consider the Uniqueness of Your Situation

Every situation is different. For example, some people work with their controllers. Other people have a controller in their family. If you work with your controller, it may be appropriate to go to HR about them. If they are a member of your family, you don’t have a higher authority such as HR to go to. Family situations and work situations are completely different.

In some cases, legal action may be a necessary recourse. In other situations such as family, legal action would be unsuitable or a disaster.

The point here is — you can’t have cookie-cutter advice when it comes to a controller because every context is different. Be careful of anyone who gives you advice about your controller without carefully considering your context.

The Bottom Line…

Analyze your situation, document it, rely on your support system to advise you, and most of all pray and fast for a breakthrough. You may feel like it’s been going on for a while with no resolution and that they are getting away with it. Perhaps you believe they might get away with it forever. The truth is, no one gets away with anything forever. As my spiritual mom, Bonnie Olsen, often says, “God keeps good books and payday’s not always on Friday!” Know that you are not alone, and you are not crazy. If you are dealing with a controller today, I am praying for you and believing that God will move in your situation soon.


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