How to Not be a Micromanager
Updated: Oct 23, 2019
If you’ve ever worked with a micromanager, you know how frustrating, unproductive, demotivating and demoralizing it can be. Dealing with a controlling boss is one thing. But have you ever thought perhaps that boss is YOU? You probably don’t think so, most micromanagers don’t even know they’re doing it.
While being detail oriented is a good thing, micromanagers take it to another level. They:
… are never satisfied with deliverables … feel frustrated because you perform a task differently than they would … laser in on the minutia and relish in making corrections … constantly want to know where all team members are and what they’re working on … ask for frequent updates on where things stand, even for ongoing activities … demand to be copied on every email about everything
As an employee, you need to understand whether there are good reasons for micromanaging. Early in the development of GDS hotel distribution, I worked for a Japanese company and oversaw their activities in reservations and distribution. My boss was really on my nerves and I would complain all the time about his micromanaging. He wanted to know everything about everything and seemed to be “wasting my time” with explaining the minutia of how distribution worked and daily struggles and processes of managing the transactions. While on a trip to the head office where we presented a strategic vision of where we were in relation to the industry and our plan for the coming year, I understood why he was so overbearing.
After all the years I worked for this company, I had developed a presentation style that directly addressed the capacity of English comprehension of the C-Suite. I spoke slowly, deliberately and articulated carefully. Even so, there was still difficulty on their part in understanding, specifically for complicated topics such as transaction processing and distribution. As it turned out, my “micromanager” boss was simply trying to understand the minutia so that he could clarify and answer questions to the group in their native language in order to advance my recommended agenda. Turns out, while unable to articulate his reasons, he was in fact my champion! This completely changed my attitude toward his involvement in my daily work.
Mine is a good story, but this is not always the case. Some micromanagers are genuinely control freaks. A control freak is reluctant to delegate, second-guesses everything you do, and can shake your confidence in your own abilities. Simple tasks that you could accomplish quickly if left to your own devices take twice as long. Many of us have the propensity to be a micromanager, but some of us rein it in better than others.
To get the best performance out of your team, the new year may be a good time to resolve to take a good look at your management style and make a conscious effort to improve. Ask yourself these questions:
Do I delegate everyday decision-making to the people closest to the work?
Does my staff know the point at which an issue requires my involvement? Is that threshold reasonable?
Do I share important information with staff so they feel involved and invested?
Do I give people increasingly greater responsibility and authority as they grow?
Do I need to have my fingerprints on everything delivered from the team?
Am I open to team feedback on my involvement in their assignments?
When I closely supervise team members because their work needs improvement, do I give them clear feedback on their performance so they know why I’m involved?
Do I hire people who are smarter than I am and helping them shine?
If you’re working for a micromanager, try to understand what is causing this behavior. While some are like my boss and have a good reason but haven’t articulated it, others are just flawed. They may be motivated by a fear of receiving blame for “mistakes” made on their watch and try to reduce risk by squelching the initiative of others. Frequently, they will make unnecessary requests for more work and will provide repeated edits. For this latter group, here are 5 things you can do to ease the situation:
Look for patterns. As annoying as micromanagers are, they’re incredibly predictable. There may be certain situations, times of the day or week, where pressure builds up. Understanding these will help you prepare to handle them.
Anticipate needs. Once you know the triggers, you can ease potential situations before they escalate and offer solutions.
Be reliable. A micromanager hates feeling out of control. If some members of the team don’t deliver, the micromanager gets aggravated and makes unfair demands on everyone else. Discuss as a team what you can do to coordinate things in such a way that there’s no need for the micromanager to fret about how everything is running.
Speak up. Often micromanagers are oblivious to the effect they are having on other people. They actually think all their micromanaging is producing better work. Show encouragement and support for the micromanager’s strengths. Then, without being confrontational, find a way to let this person know how micromanagement affects you. You might ask how he or she thinks it feels to be second-guessed and mistrusted all the time.
Include the team. Explain to others on your team what you’re doing to ease the micromanager’s anxiety and encourage them to do the same. This includes your manager’s boss who may be able to run interference for some of their activities.
These are not a panacea and may have no affect on those who really see no issue with their need for control, but they may ease the situation and, at the very least, will reassure you that you have done all you can to improve the office environment.
Make the effort to take a look at your own behavior and management style and resolve to make improvements. The result will be not only improvement in your own production and creativity, but will also affect those around you.