5 Signs Controlling Leadership May be Contributing to Your Employee Turnover

5 Signs Controlling Leadership May Be Contributing to Your Employee Turnover

“It’s very dramatic when two people come together to work something out. It’s easy to take a gun and annihilate your opposition, but what is really exciting to me is to see people with differing views come together and finally respect each other.”

– Fred Rogers
The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

In his television show of 895 episodes that ran from 1968 – 2001, Mr. Rogers taught kids about a variety of life skills such as valuing themselves, self-control, curiosity, appreciation of diversity, cooperation, patience, and perseverance.

Through meaningful lyrics, scripts, and puppetry, Mr. Rogers presented meaningful experiences that apply not only to children but also to adults. He was talking about emotional and social intelligence long before all the books we have today that have been written on the topic.

How do you deal with conflict, stress, and challenges?

When faced with conflict, stress, or challenges, what is your pattern? 

Perhaps your focus becomes on being productive and getting things done. If emotions get in the mix, you believe they only muddy the waters and slow progress. 

Perhaps you people please to smooth over tension and create harmony. 

Today we focus on control as a leader’s go-to conflict style that may be contributing to employee turnover. This blog is the second part of a multi-blog series addressing how family upbringing affects your conflict style and business relationships

In the first blog, we addressed five common remarks leaders make when avoidance is their go-to conflict style. 

Read the list below and see if you relate to any of the signs of control that may be contributing to employee turnover in your organization.

Later you’ll learn how a leader transformed her go-to conflict style of control to empathy. 

This leader provides an inspiring example that transforming your conflict style is possible regardless of what was modeled during your upbringing.  


5 Signs Controlling Leadership Contributes to Employee Turnover 

  1. My way or the highway

You have a vision of how things should be done and if things deviate from your plans, you get angry or shun those who don’t agree with you. You may find it difficult to stay level-headed because you feel stressed when others don’t conform to your standard of how you think things ought to be done.

  1. You become defensive when questioned

If an employee asks a question to gain clarification about a project, you overreact. You don’t like being questioned and view others as incompetent, stupid, or lazy if they challenge your ideas or don’t catch on as quickly as you think they should. Others may have described you as an abrasive person or a bully coworker.

  1. Retaliation is the name of the game

If you perceive that someone made you look bad, you will find a way to get back. You don’t care if you humiliate them in front of colleagues, your mindset is to get even and to have the last word. 

  1. Perfection is the standard

You have high expectations of yourself and others. Anything less than perfection is unacceptable. Nine things out of ten can be correct, and you will focus on the one wrong thing. You prefer to pull on your own inner resources to get things done, rather than rely on the help of others. 

  1. Condescending tone

Your tone of voice reflects superiority and speaking down to others. Even if your words are the “right” things to say, how you speak is flavored with condescension and belittlement.

Influence from Family Upbringing

Controllers often grow up in a family environment of chaos, confusion, and unpredictability. Parents who are supposed to be a source of comfort are often emotionally or physically unavailable. 

Many times, the home environment is impacted by parents’ use of drugs and alcohol that contributes to anger outbursts, even violence and abuse. 

Children who grow up in this type of setting never know when the next outburst will be which affects their sense of safety, ability to concentrate (especially at school), and ability to develop close relationships. When they feel upset, they tend to react in anger since that is what was modeled to them.

People who tend to control often come from families where positive coping skills were not taught or modeled. Getting people to do what they want is how they feel in control in an out-of-control environment. 

Yelling, blaming, and demanding is how controllers keep the focus on others so they don’t have to look at their own internal discomfort. They truly don’t know another way – however, this isn’t an excuse for a controller’s behavior. 

If I’ve learned anything in my thirty years combined experience as a psychiatric nurse, family therapist, and now as an executive leadership coach, is people who tend to control have a genuine lack of self-awareness of how their controlling behaviors affect others. In these same individuals, I have also seen remarkable change, growth, and earnest desire to make amends to those they have harmed.

Perhaps you identify with some of these controlling behaviors, but you didn’t grow up in a chaotic home as described above. If that’s the case, think back to times in your upbringing when you felt out of control. 

  • What did you do? 
  • How did your parents comfort you? 
  • What inner resources did you develop to calm down in times of stress? 
  • How did your parents respond when you misbehaved? 
  • Did they teach you how to manage your feelings and offer coping skills? 

These questions are a starting point to understanding how your upbringing could be impacting your relationships today, including your leadership.

Changing a controlling pattern

In her career as a nursing administrator, Mandy was extremely successful. She had many promotions, juggled multiple responsibilities, and was known for her efficiency as a leader who got things done. 

Despite her professional success, Mandy had a reputation of being difficult to work for and had a high turnover with her staff. 

She started leadership coaching after receiving multiple complaints of treating employees in a condescending, disrespectful manner. Her team thought of her as a bully coworker. 

Motivated to keep her job, Mandy was receptive to the coaching process and receiving feedback from an objective, unbiased outsider.  

Leadership Transformation

Though initially defensive of the evidence of negative perceptions about her leadership style, Mandy became open to gaining self-awareness of how her behavior affected others. 

Over time, she made a connection between events in her upbringing that influenced her behavior as a leader. She realized that at a young age she was responsible for protecting her siblings and herself when her father would come home drunk. Her mother was often hit by her father which left Mandy to take charge of keeping the family safe.

As Mandy, began to lower her defensives, the blinders were lifted of how her behavior affected others. She began showing remorse about how she had treated her staff. 

At one point she said “I don’t want to be that person”. She stayed on course to transform her tendency to control and adopted new ways of dealing with stress and anxiety.

Not only did an inner transformation occur for Mandy, but also a transformation in how she led. The morale of her employees changed from tension and stifled ideas to positivity and freedom to share innovative thinking.

How do controlling behaviors impact business relationships?

Neuroscience studies have shown how relationships impact brain functioning. When controlling behaviors as listed above play out in the workplace, it prevents people’s brains from working at their best. 


Because the same fight/flight response that Mandy experienced when her father came home drunk is the same response employees have when they work with a leader whose behavior is unpredictable, overly critical, and explosive. 

When employees consistently work in negative conditions, they are constantly on edge. It shuts down creative problem-solving, planning, innovation, organization, productivity… all the elements that drive success towards the bottom line.

Your behavior as leader will affect the work environment, which in turn will affect the brain functioning of your employees and how well they perform. If you are wondering why you are not getting the results you want, start with looking at how your behavior is impacting others.

The good news is controlling behaviors can be transformed.

Like Mandy, it takes a conscious choice to become self-aware and gain empathy for how others are impacted by your behavior. 

As a leader, your behavior sets the tone of your culture based on what you model. 

Surround yourself with people who care enough about you to tell you the truth and who will support you in making the necessary changes. 

When you do, you will see a ripple effect of results in your business, your employees, and your own peace of mind.

Make the Conscious Choice to turn around controlling behaviors.
Results and relationships are waiting for you, far more wonderful
than you could ever imagine.

Ready to find out how your family upbringing impacts your conflict style?  

Take my complimentary Workplace Family Factor® Assessment and learn how self-awareness of your family upbringing will equip you to improve how you handle conflict at work. 


About the author 

Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT works with executive leaders who want to gain self-awareness about the impact of their words and actions and up-level their interpersonal skills. 

Drawing from decades as a psychiatric nurse and licensed family therapist, Bonnie brings a unique perspective to equip executive leaders with the roadmap to emotional intelligence that brings teams together. 

Bonnie’s leadership Turnaround coaching program has an 82% success rate in guiding leaders to replace abrasive behavior with tact, empathy, and consideration of others. The end result is a happy, healthy, and profitable workplace…sooner vs. later.