Ask Skip: How Can I Control a Controlling “Know It All” Employee

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There are a couple of issues to consider in this situation:

  • First, sometimes this can be an example of “the pot calling the kettle black.” By that I mean sometimes it takes a controlling personality to know a controlling personality. Many business owners who have owned their companies for a long period of time become so connected to the way they’ve been doing things over the years that have made them successful, they are not open to ideas and contributions from others who are “just” employees.

Often, if the employee is a solid part of the team, and they have proven over time to be trustworthy, are making suggestions because they truly see better, more effective and profitable ways of doing things. If it is possible this may be the case in this situation, then I encourage my clients to lead with humility, bring an open mind to the conversation and consider the suggestions.

This does a couple of things:

    1. It allows the employee to feel “heard” and “valued” and will make them even more open to contributing at higher levels to the organization.
    2. It builds higher levels of trust and respect between the leader and their team members.
  • Secondly, if this truly is a “controlling, know it all employee” understand that this type of behavior is usually due to low self-esteem and low self-confidence. From those issues may stem a job insecurity issues causing them to feel a need to strike out and show their knowledge and worth in ways that attempt to build themselves up, while making others look bad and wrong, even their bosses. This can be a very challenging personality style that must be dealt with or can ruin an organizational culture and cause low morale and low trust on a team.

In this situation the boss, or business owner in your case, must do two things:

  1. Be very clear on areas of authority and responsibility for all employees and monitor specific situations in which this individual oversteps their position.
  2. Then, any indiscretion identified or experienced first hand in the work environment by the leader (or their boss), must be dealt with immediately so as to not give the impression that this type of behavior is acceptable. Behaviors that are allowed to persist send the message that the behavior is acceptable and will continue and get more ingrained while harder to reel in as time goes on.

To work specifically on this and other leadership strategies to improve overall performance on your team you are going to want to participate in the “Confident Leaders Training Camp” either the live TeleClass version or the home study version that will soon be available, learn more here.

If anyone would like further clarification on this please feel free to leave a comment below and start a discussion for all to learn from.

’til next time, make it a great day!

If you have an issue you are dealing with in leading your team and/or organization that you would like answered in my “Ask Skip” column, click here to submit your own “Leadership, Teamwork or Workplace Communication” question here and you might just see your question answered here in the coming weeks. I also promise to reply directly so that you get the help you need when you need it.

7 thoughts on “Ask Skip: How Can I Control a Controlling “Know It All” Employee

  1. Ashraf Ghazy says:

    Know-it-all employee does not exist. We’d better say an adept or veteran employee. Because no one person can grasp the entire situation without faulty calculations, misinterpretations or mistakes here and there. And all employees’ skills should complete each other interchangeably. So to control a veteran employee the manager has to respect his opinions and put him ahead of the team most of the time

  2. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Ashraf, you make a great point and I agree with you. In a perfect world where everybody on the team has high levels of self-esteem, including the leader, and where everyone perceives that all members of the team are treated fairly, this shouldn’t be the case.

    What I learned in this situation, which I think is a pretty good case study, is that this “know it all” employee felt threatened and insecure in her job. Therefore, due to low self-esteem and the fact that the leader of the organization was poor at providing both positive reinforcing feedback and constructive feedback, this individual took the only approach she knew how and that was to ‘protect’ herself by lashing out and criticizing others.

    I learned this by having a conversation with this woman in one of the complimentary Strategy Session’s I offer people that submit a question through my “Ask Skip” column on this blog

    From my experience this scenario is not uncommon. Both leaders and team members struggle with low self-esteem and it manifests in many different facets, this is one common way for people who feel like they do not have control in a situation, and for leaders it manifests often in what I call the “avoid and tolerate” leadership style where leaders choose to avoid dealing with issues and have to tolerate the results of allowing issues to go unaddressed and fester.

    Again, thanks for adding value to my discussion and taking it deeper. Skip

  3. Joanne Sperans says:

    I agree, Skip, so called “know it all’s” typically are people who feel threatened either by their own lack of knowledge or by other’s expertise. I know I became a far better leader when I took the approach of working to ensure that everyone on my team could do my job – granted, not with as much experience or strategic know-how, but I hoped they would learn much of that over time. I told them “my goal is to go on vacation and have no one miss me…at least from a work standpoint,” and because I empowered them, we all felt more secure in our mutual effort, and were far more successful.

  4. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Thanks for stopping by and adding value to the discussion. I commend you for stepping up and understanding that by empowering others you empower yourself and everyone grows and wins. So many people think its a zero sum game and if you win, I lose, and vice-versa. This is one way people stay stuck in positions they don’t enjoy anymore or become bored with because they’ve insulated themselves from growing due to fear of bringing other people up around them.

    In my white paper on the “3 Strategies of Champion Organizations” I write about developing Leadership and Teamwork throughout an organization and how veteran athletes on championship teams are the ones who do the coaching and mentoring of their successors because they know their role has changed and has to change in order for them to contribute to the team at the highest level. Even though they are helping to develop their replacement, they do it because its the right thing to do and others did it for them.

    Although I know it’s somewhat different in athletics since athletes do age out of their skills and there is a need for them to redefine their role so they can continue to add value to their team and remain viable, I think in business the metaphor still works and can be used as a model for succession planning. You can’t move up in an organization if there is no one qualified to replace you.

    Again, Joanne, thanks for the comment and please feel free to join the conversation anytime!

  5. Amanda says:

    I have an employee who overstepping their role. I asked him to train a new employee in one area. He did not train the employee completely, leaving quite a bit of important information out. He then has been trying to tell the employee what to do after I have set out the daily production schedule for each station. Towards the end of the day everyone in production works together to get all of the jobs out. He is going over to the new employees area asking questions about what he has gotten done and causing more confusion. He keeps losing job orders and making mistakes in shipping, costing the company more moeny. He then gets an attitude when I tell him that he needs to focus on his own area and let me worry about the new employee meeting my standards. He lashed out on the production floor in front of everypone at me stating he is just trying to get his job done. He is rude and disrespectful adn I believe he has issues with taking his orders from a female. I have written him up several times fo rmisatkes in shipping and his attitude. I am at my rope’s end.

  6. Jean says:

    My office is directly across from the HR office. When I ask a question I get a quick answer always followed by her opinion and direction/instruction which I don’t need or ask for. I have pointed this out to her. Her instruction is more intense as a result. She is very close to the owner. Others have complained about her only to receive his criticism of us. I try to limit my conversation with her and ignor her direction. She has a real need to manage others. I don’t think it’s low self esteem. I believe she sees herself as an extension of the owner.

  7. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Thank you for stopping by and being inspired to leave a comment about your situation. You are absolutely right about her low self-esteem. She has need to build her self-esteem to prove she is smarter than the rest by always giving her solutions.

    If it’s one person coming to the owner, I can see him/her deflecting it and blaming the individual, if there are significantly more than one complaining its a pattern that should be addresses. Unless there is a significant negative impact of this behavior there is no reason to change it because the owner is getting some benefit from this HR professional.

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