Every day as I interact as a succession planner with family-owned businesses, I encounter control freaks. Unfortunately, control freaks do not want to be known as such and try to disguise their attitude and management style. Therefore, as I assess what is going on relative to the family and the business, I look for signs that help me understand how the family and business works. By doing so, any control freaks are almost always revealed. In this process, it is important that I be sensitive to these signs because a control freak generally handicaps, or even curses, a succession planning initiative.

As a succession planner, I must be aware of, and address, the organizational and family handicaps that may have been accumulating over many years. I must also be prepared to develop plans and processes that will manage the curses and discontinue negative affirmations that can handicap the continuation of success through the next generation of owners and managers. However, let it be said that, rehabilitating the control freaks that I encounter is a stretch because they are so devoted to their comfort zone of behavior,  attitudes and affirming the successes of their extraordinary controls that all we can hope to do is limit their exposure to those they handicap or curse.

With respect to identification, the first sign of a control freak is that the individual (owner or manager) is frantically busy. They barely have time to sit down with me in lieu of all the demands upon their time. They also love to complain about not having any time and offering innuendos about the sacrifices they are making for their family and/or the business. The office of a control freak, or in extreme cases, offices since they dream of being “omnipresent”, is usually positioned to maintain visual contact (control) over the proceedings of the business. Their view may be the yard, warehouse, showroom, a multi-screen video display or something else that allows them to maintain their vigilance over perceived minions. In general, my meetings with control freaks are constantly interrupted by an onslaught of inquiries, which are followed by complaints but rarely a message to the receptionist of “hold my calls”. It is also not unusual to have cell phones, office phones, emails and memos flowing at the same time. Office decorations generally relate to achievements, not events or relationships. Favorite words of the control freak are me, my and I, while favorite dialogue questions begin with words such as why, when, where and how. There is also a high degree of urgency around a control freak as those who depend upon him for work are doing everything they can to make him happy until the ”freak” leaves for the day or has to take a vacation because they are exhausted. When we talk with working family members, junior partners, junior managers or the like we hear a lot of “you’ll have to check with dad (the boss, my partner) on that.”  Everyone at the end of a spoke is following the unspoken, unofficial protocol by running all significant decisions back through the hub (control freak) for answers. 

Generally, the immediate environment surrounding a control freak is very impressive. There is order, there is intense focus and there is productivity. 

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