Stop Controlling, Start Influencing

Written by lewsauder

October 9, 2020

I once worked for a very controlling manager. His primary focus was always to control every moment of the day. He was the CEO and he never missed an opportunity to remind people of his title. If anyone pushed back in the slightest way to one of his decisions, he pulled out his standard line. “I am the CEO of this organization! How would you know more about (the topic at hand) than I would?”

It has been very rare in my years of project management to have someone on my team that reported directly to me. In most project management situations, the team is either matrixed within the organization, or there are people from multiple organizations. In consulting, you may very likely be managing an entire team from outside your own organization.

Whether you have direct control over any of your teammates or not, in modern management times, it is critical to stop controlling your team and start influencing them. The results are almost always better when you use influence.


The old school approach assumes that one person is in charge. The boss makes all the decisions and calls out all of the orders. Everyone else on the team follows the orders…or else.

This approach may work well in certain military or emergency medical situations where lives may be at stake. In the business world, it is no longer considered productive.

A collaborative approach to management allows the team to push back on management if they disagree. The leader is a decision maker because they are in a position to know a broader range of information and presumably can make better decisions based on that broader knowledge of the corporate strategy and understanding of how other departments may be functioning.

In a collaborative environment, the leader does not expect herself to know everything and make every decision on her own. The leader will work with the team and gather their knowledge. The leader will share her knowledge and how the decision will impact the project as well as other areas of the organization. The final decision is made – or approved –  by the leader, who will normally be held accountable for the decision. But collaborating with team members who have other valuable information the leader may not have can lead to much better decisions. It also leads to a more productive team. They understand why the decision was made and have confidence that it helps the organization to move forward.

Leverage rarely exists

The command and control manager has the leverage of being able to discipline a team member or ultimately fire them. Most managers who lean towards the command and control approach are happy to use any leverage they have. They often use threats and their general power to control the team members. This is leadership by fear and it rarely brings teams together. It is bad for morale and has been shown to reduce productivity in the team.

In a project management role, there is usually the implied leverage that you can report a team member’s performance to their direct report.  It is more effective and productive to influence a team member, than to use the leverage of fear to persuade them to accomplish anything.

Command Respect

The controlling manager demands that people treat them with respect. Team members are given little choice but to treat the manager with respect. But it is only given in the manager’s presence. An effective leader commands respect from their actions and the way they treat other people. Team members treat the manager with respect because they want to. Not because they have to.

Start Influencing

It is much more productive to influence a team to perform than the old school control approach. And there are several approaches to use an influential approach.

Value (and apply) your team’s knowledge

Controlling leaders want the team to believe that they alone can resolve all of the problems. They have the critical knowledge to make decisions and move things forward. Team members are simply mindless pawns to them for fulfilling their orders.

Influential managers know that every team member has a depth of knowledge of their own work function and all of their previous experiences. By drawing from that knowledge and sharing her own knowledge, the team can be much more effective. They can make better decisions as a team with the combined knowledge. Further, team members who are included in decision making are more effective in executing the decision that are made by understanding the impact the work will have. Morale is higher because team members are part of the process.

Additionally, when team members see something going wrong, they have the autonomy to call it out. They are not afraid of raising their hand and disputing the leader. The leader can disagree. But will explain why the decision needs to stand. If the manager agrees, a decision can be changed, and the team member has the pride of being included in a process improvement.

Treat them with respect

A command and control manager has little capacity for respect. They are so focused on being the expert at everything, respect of the team is rarely considered.

But when the leader treats her team with respect, that respect is usually returned.  Respect is not possible without humility. The leader has to be modest enough to admit that they do not know everything. They need to show some vulnerability. They need to be able to let the team know that they rely on the team for their expertise and knowledge.

The leader’s role is to do just that – to lead them, not to control them. To lead you need people to follow. People will not follow you if they do not respect you. They will not respect you if you do not respect them back.


There is no place for command and control management in today’s collaborative world. Effective managers have learned that they get more productivity out of their team if the stop controlling and start influencing.

Project managers rarely have the authority of command and control. They have a mix of team members from many different sources. Project managers know that influencing the team by respecting them and working with them collaboratively will get better results. It also makes for a much more enjoyable daily work environment.

What techniques have you used to influence your teams?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of  Kristin Hardwick at StockSnap

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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