Coping with Power-Clutchers, Paranoids and Perfectionists


Do you work for a Power-Clutcher, Paranoid or Perfectionist? Most of us relish the glow that follows skillful accomplishment. But when our supervisors hold the reins of their authority too tightly — making every decision, directing every move — the opportunity for solid achievement just isn’t there. In Coping with Difficult Bosses, Robert Brahmson writes about how to cope with three types of difficult bosses that hold the reigns too tightly: Power-Clutchers, Paranoids and Perfectionists.

Power Clutchers, Paranoids and Perfectionists
Power Clutchers, Paranoids and Perfectionists are usually the result of a complexity of motivations, there are several common reasons why some managers hold the reins too tightly: a need to be certain, lack of confidence and trust, an irrational search for perfection, and an overstrong wish to be in charge.

Coping with Power Clutchers, Paranoids and Perfectionists
The key to coping with bosses who won’t, can’t, or don’t delegate is to use a martial arts approach. Rather than try to overcome the inner forces that have prevented your boss from relinquishing tight control, you’ll flow with them. Bramson provides a set of recommendations for coping with Power-Clutchers, Paranoids and Perfectionists:

  • Uncover hidden doubts about your competence or trustworthiness. For example, “If things have happened in the past, that make you doubt my ability to use more authority, it would help me a lot to hear about it, even if it’s not anything big.” Several studies have shown that most bosses enjoy demonstrating to their subordinates how wise they are and often feel hurt that they are seldom asked for that wisdom, so you may convince your bosses of your own perspicacity by recognizing theirs.
  • Look more competenc by communicating to your to your boss’s strengths. Find ways to present ideas to your boss that’s consistent with their thinking-style and what they value. For example, do they prefer more audio or more visual. Do they want it in writing? Do they value time or cost? Big picture or details? … etc.
  • Build trust by accepting fears and suspicions. However distasteful you may find it, brace yourself and do what your bosses least expect you to do – ask that the reigns be temporarily tightened. Be the first to acknowledge that life abounds with inconsistencies and hazards and embrace the wisdom of a cautious and controlled approach. You boss may find you worthy of more leeway in making decisions.
  • Welcome frequent checkups. The more you assure suspicious people, the more they question your sincerity or good sense. You know that their fears are inordinate, but they don’t, so when you insist that all is well, you simply increase their doubts. Paradoxically, you can show yourself as a person worthy of trust by welcoming, even insisting on, an even closer look at how well you’re doing. Ask more more and tighter controls. If accounts are reconciled monthly, suggest that they be reconciled every two weeks or even weekly. Your object in flowing with the fears of your boss, rather than resisting them, is to mark yourself as “one of those who can be trusted” — a fellow “watcher” who should be granted an increase in responsibility by a grateful boss.
  • Probe for clues to your boss’s fear points. Remember, trust building with a highly suspicious person takes time, and that trust remains fragile even longer.
  • If your boss equates mistakes with failure, emphasize contingency planning. It’s wise to clearly identify every potential problem before your boss does. Then counterbalance them by emphasizing preventive action. Finally elaborate on whatever tap dance you’ve cooked up that will enable your boss to escape if prevention doesn’t work.
  • Provide verbal support to risky decisions.
  • Remind nervous bosses that they really can trust you. Frequently affirm your intention to keep both of you out of trouble.
  • Try subtle teaching. Suggest and demonstrate, a less apprehensive view of the world. For example, when something goes wrong with your own work, acknowledge it, but follow up with, “Well, I’ve learned something from this mistake, here’s how I’m going to prevent it in the future” or “Although I don’t plan to make mistakes, when they happen I’m not a failure if I learn from them.”

Key Take Aways
Here’s my key take aways:

  • It’s counter-intuitive to ask for more controls, but the effectiveness of the approach makes sense.
  • It’s great insight to point out that resisting the controls actually increases suspicions and makes the relationship worse.
  • I like the martial arts angle of going with the flow.
  • I think asking for more controls helps build rapport. People like people who are like themselves. Rapport is the key to influence. Influence and trust are the keys to getting more freedom and loosening the reigns.

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