Controlling leadership does not work, read how it can be done differently

Last week, three people told me that they had considered resigning, in all cases because of a controlling management style of their supervisor. The first person shared that his boss was blunt and then claimed that as a manager you just have to be “a bit of a jerk”. The second person described how his supervisor was constantly coercive, controlling and suspicious to the frustration of several people on the team. The third person complained that her supervisor did not involve her and her colleagues in important decisions and always presented them with fait accomplis. Although they had not finally decided to resign, all three of them were seriously considering it.

Considering resignation

There can be several reasons for dissatisfaction among employees. One of them is a workload which is structurally too high. More often, however, the cause lies in the behavior of their manager (see, for example, Collie, 2023). When employees feel disregarded, mistrusted or pressured, they often consider resigning. This can be the result of a pattern of authoritarian behavior or sometimes even a single conversation with the supervisor. In the latter case, one wrong conversation can affect employees so deeply that they immediately want to pack their things and leave.

The damage caused by controlling leadership 

Controlling leadership could be described as authoritarian, controlling and suspicious leadership. It can be accompanied by threats of punishment and authoritarian language. It can also be expressed in trying to motivate through rewards.
Controlling leadership can lead to a deteriorated quality of motivation. It can generate a sense of insecurity and a sense of unappreciatedness among employees. This can damage the involvement and motivation of employees and put a lot of pressure on the relationship between the manager and the employees. This in turn can result in a lack of trust and open communication within the team. And although employees would often like to resign in such circumstances, they do not always do so.

Reasons why employees don't always resign

Despite the dissatisfaction that coercive and distrustful leadership can cause, employees do not always resign immediately. The reasons for this are diverse. Fear and uncertainty about future employment may play a role. In addition, practical considerations such as financial obligations can play a major role, such as having to pay the mortgage or having to pay back training costs upon departure.
In addition, employees may have mixed feelings about leaving because they really appreciate other aspects of their job, such as dealing with customers, students or colleagues.
However, the fact that these frustrated employees do not leave the organization does not mean that there is no problem. Although they still do their job, their involvement, motivation and job satisfaction have probably decreased to such an extent that they function much less well.

Why do executives choose this coercive approach?

Despite the fact that the controlling style of leadership certainly does not work well, some still firmly believe in it. I think this has mainly to do with the fact that it often leads to people displaying the desired behaviour, perhaps partly out of fear, partly out of insecurity.
The damage that takes place is less visible. This takes place outside the line of sight of the manager, namely in the head of the employee. This employee may feel annoyance, fear, resistance and demotivation. But the executive cannot read minds and may not be well aware of this.
The supervisor may think, “See? They are working so being forceful helps!”

Progress-focused leadership as an alternative

An alternative to coercive and suspicious leadership is progress-focused leadership. One of the important aspects of progress-oriented leadership is that the basic psychological needs of employees are supported (read more). This style of leadership supports the needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness in the work environment. By giving employees more autonomy, they are given the space to make their own decisions and to bear responsibility. Promoting competence means giving employees the opportunity to develop their skills and achieve success. Finally, relatedness makes employees feel valued and part of the team.
Applying these principles can lead to a better working atmosphere, higher satisfaction and more progress for both employees and the organization.