A thorough succession plan addresses the organizational and family issues that can impact the continued success of the business through the next generation of owners and managers.  A control freak at the helm significantly complicates two components of the Succession Matrix: successor identification and development and management teamwork and synergy. Notably, the control freak represents a barrier to the development of successors and supporting managers who have the confidence and competence to operate the business when the control freak inevitably loses his/her physical or mental ability to drive the business.

Relieving the barriers created by a control freak is no easy task. Most do not consciously express the goal of maintaining control, some even deny the notion. Their unspoken plan is to maintain a white-knuckled grip “until death do us part” due to insecurities beyond my understanding.  The barrier can be so great that it is unrealistic to even discuss the transition of management control and leadership without confronting the control freak with the issue and the impact they have upon the succession initiative. The initial goal is to achieve self awareness and recognition that the unwillingness of the control freak to trust, delegate and hold subordinates accountable significantly handicaps the growth of managers and prospective successors who are seeking experience, competence, respect and confidence, which are the fundamental ingredients of “leadership stew.” The hope is that self awareness and recognition of their excessive compulsive behavior will serve as motivation for behavior modification. Unfortunately, there is no assurance the control freak will get out of the way even if he or she recognizes they are the problem. In many cases, they just cannot help themselves. Like an addict, their conscious may want to trust and delegate, but their subconscious insecurities dictate that they be involved in everything physically possible.  

Historically, the most successful course of action for reconciling the control freak succession liability is to acknowledge that they need something to control while organizing a group of respected senior managers as a support group to regularly (and often) discuss the goals of more delegation and empowerment of prospective successors and emerging managers. The group would also discuss what is currently being done to delegate and trust and the positive and negative impact this trust and delegation is having on the business. The purpose of the support group is not to embarrass but to give the control freak regular affirmation and assurance that their trust is merited; as well as peace of mind that there is effective accountability for performance shortfalls. And most of all, they need reassurance that a disastrous blunder will not occur. If successful, this regular reinforcement will delicately and deliberately introduce empowerment, trust and accountability into the business culture allowing a successor leader to be confirmed. If unsuccessful, the control freak will reach his/her limit of tolerance and after a short patronization of the support group, proclaim that they are no longer going to participate in stupid, crazy, demeaning meetings with people who have no clue what it takes to run a business. Regardless, the succession process will be better off because it will have started on a deliberate pathway to achieving leadership and management succession with recognition of the depth of the succession liability. If there is little hope for change in the control freak’s behavior, the best advice is to start preparing for the forthcoming crisis and move on to other issues of the Succession Matrix that offer greater opportunity for improvement.