ROBERT SMITH IS a recovering control freak.
Ten years ago, when he started Champion Media Worldwide, a Rockton, Ill., search-engine marketing firm, he handled everything: prospecting for clients, marketing, accounting, even running to Kinko’s if the need arose. Working 12-hour days, Smith refused to take a vacation and spent huge chunks of time away from family. After finally hiring employees in 2004, he became the worst kind of boss — a micromanager who watched over every little thing his staff did.
Then, advice from a mentor opened his eyes: Unless he changed his controlling ways, the business would never grow. “Once I recognized that, and released some control, my business took off,” says Smith, who credits the new approach to adding some $100,000 to the company’s coffers in the past two years. He’s even taken a vacation — to the Wisconsin Dells, a Midwest tourist destination — for the first time in 10 years. “I’m enjoying my life, and I’m enjoying my business, a whole lot more.”
Entrepreneurs are a notoriously controlling bunch. Many start their own businesses because they can’t bear to work for someone else. And while those control-freak tendencies — namely, hyper-attention to detail, an overzealous devotion to the business and a need to dictate how everything is done — can help them in the start-up phase, those same traits can ultimately take a toll on their life and the business itself.
Most often, the first area that’s affected is one’s family and personal life. “If your focus is always going to be your work/your job/your business, it’s really hard to prioritize,” says Cooper Lawrence, a developmental psychologist in New York, who writes about such personalities in her book, “The Cult of Perfection.”
In fact, it’s sometimes a crack in one’s personal life — such as the break-up of a marriage, the alienation of friends or family, or the lack of time with children — that causes a control-freak business owner to change his or her ways. For Richelle Shaw, owner of FreshStart Telephone, a multimillion-dollar phone-service company in Las Vegas, it was back-to-back serious illnesses that got her to kick the control-freak habit. In 2005, Shaw suffered complications from an ovarian cyst, and then, a short while later, a blood clot. Both problems, she believes, were worsened because she ignored the painful symptoms and kept on working.
Tips To Change Your Control-Freak Ways
Much like other bad behaviors, the first step in conquering a negative, controlling personality is to admit that you have one. Not sure? Ask any outside observer, including the people who work for you.
After that, it’s time for an attitude adjustment. Cran, author of “Control Freak Revolution,” suggests these ways to flip negative characteristics into positive ones:
Are you overbearing?
Try to be a coach instead. Provide helpful feedback that allows others to grow.
Are you a micromanager?
Set parameters and reward good performance, but don’t watch over shoulders.