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3 Ways to Tell If You’re a Control Freak (and Why It May Be a Good Thing)

There’s a difference between being controlling, and being an effective motivator.

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BY Bill Green - 16 May 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In business, I've been called a control freak.

But I don't mind. Some of the greatest entrepreneurs of this century are considered control freaks. They work constantly, know everything that's happening in their company, and are constantly overseeing every detail. Elon Musk comes to mind here.

There's a lot to be learned from being a "control freak" in the business world. And while there are certainly times when you need to let go, delegate and trust, being heavily involved in the company you started is rarely a bad thing.

Here's how you can tell if you're a control freak, and why those tendencies might be your greatest asset:

1. You make your presence known throughout the company.

Part of being a successful founder or CEO is being so involved that everyone in your company knows who you are.

Chances are, you've heard a friend or peer say, "I've never even talked to the CEO of our company." I see that as a huge problem. You never want to be a faceless leader who hides away in the corner office, giving orders from afar. That doesn't inspire anyone.

Go out and get your coffee at the coffee machine in the employee kitchen like everybody else. Learn people's names. Know what their kids are doing. The most important thing you can do is be visible, so that your employees and team members feel seen and heard too. Remember, as your company grows, it will become harder and harder to know each person individually. So prioritize making that personalized impact while you still can.

On top of building morale, this is a good way to hear what's going on at every level of your business from the people who are doing it. As an entrepreneur, you have to have a hand in everything that happens in your business from the ground up. And there is no better way to do that than talk to the people helping you build it.

2. You trust the people you've hired, because you're taken the time to train them.

The line between being an active and passionate CEO and being a control freak lies in delegation. Contrary to popular belief, you can know everything that's going on in your business without actually doing it all yourself.

Running the show solo may be a great philosophy when you're in startup mode, but if the team you build becomes a perennial powerhouse, you shouldn't have to keep carrying the team.

This is one skill they don't teach you at CEO bootcamp: learn to let it go.

You've just hired an amazing team, right? Then trust your instincts, and let your employees do the jobs that you hired them to do. I finally learned to delegate 10 years after I started my first company. I wouldn't say I'm totally hands-off now, but once I train new employees, I let them do their thing. I tell them, "Call me if you need me, and keep me up to speed. Just don't surprise me with bad news after the fact when I can't help you do something about it."

CEOs that are the bad kind of "control freaks" are the ones who never let go. The productive "control freaks" are the ones that very deliberately train their employees, so that when it's time to let go, they trust everything will be just fine.

3. You keep checking in--because you keep wanting to improve performance.

Here's a good rule to manage by: people do what's "inspected" of them, not what's expected of them.

This is a topic I speak on at length in my book, All In. As a leader, you have to instill quality-control practices into everything you do--and that goes for managing your employees. If you leave your employees' success up to the expectations you have for them, you're going to be sorely disappointed every time.

It takes a "control freak" to continually check up on people, time and time again, to ensure they're always performing up to the standards you hold for yourself.

In order to do this, you have to make sure you're training your staff on the level of quality that's expected in each part of the business. Then, check in with them frequently to make sure they're doing a great job. And even after you trust your staff to do a great job every time, keep checking in again and again. Remember, when people know you're involved, and know you're going to be looking over their work, they're going to operate as such. But the moment you forget about them, chances are, they're going to forget about you too.

It might seem hard to not cross the line between the negative connotation of a control freak and being an active CEO. Just remember the good work that some of those "control freaks" have done in the business world.