Handling a micromanaging boss is not an easy task. Micromanagement is a chronic personality trait that is difficult to change. However, whether it is your supervisor or you who is guilty of micromanaging, the battle can be won if the person becomes aware of the problem and desires to address it.
This article explains what micromanaging is, why people are guilty of it, and why it can be detrimental to productivity, employee morale, and staff retention. We also explain how to recognize a micromanager and what to do if you or your boss exhibit these tendencies.
Micromanaging is getting involved in the details of projects or tasks that should be delegated to competent, trustworthy staff. A good manager makes sure that their direct reports are capable and have the tools to do their job. A good leader also holds team members accountable for their work. In contrast, a micromanager finds it difficult to let others complete tasks without watching their every move and interfering.
There are different reasons for micromanaging. It could be that a manager does not have a capable team and feels the need to watch their every move. Alternatively, a micromanager may interfere to make sure a job is done in a certain way. Fundamentally, a manager might have a deep-rooted fear of failure, so they seek obsessive control of every detail.
This behavior has been exacerbated by the recent COVID-19 pandemic and new hybrid work models. Research shows that approximately 40% of supervisors polled had low self-confidence in their ability to manage employees remotely.
To learn more about hybrid work, read “What Is Hybrid Work?”
How can you tell if you are working for a micromanager? Are you a micromanager yourself? These telltale signs of micromanagement will help you determine whether micromanagement affects you. You can then take the steps necessary to improve your situation or reign in your own controlling management style. Self-awareness is the first step to self-improvement.
In some cases, check-ins and even approvals at various stages in a large project keep everyone on track. There can be lots of moving pieces that must be kept in alignment. However, if the constant checks or approvals are a hindrance and cause unnecessary work, you are probably experiencing micromanagement.
Good leaders delegate and use their time for other things. If a manager cannot relinquish control and leave an individual or team to handle work on their own, they are micromanaging and cannot build trust.
Great leaders delegate. The definition of delegation is “the act of giving someone authority or responsibility for something.” Good managers assign tasks based on people's strengths and competencies. A micromanager is usually not a good delegator. They tend to hover over staff and maintain a high level of control over everything.
A weekly check-in with your boss is productive. It opens up communication and keeps you both in the loop. However, if you constantly have to respond to your boss’s questions, or if there are frequent updates to instructions or priorities, that’s a problem. Micro-managers struggle to prioritize, and they may flit back and forth from one project to another without a clear strategy. Don't be surprised when you become increasingly frustrated and unproductive with this chaotic approach.
For practical tips on managing your boss, read “I Hate My Boss—What Should I Do?”
A manager’s role is to oversee operations, not get bogged down in the details. Micromanagers are “unable to see the forest for the trees,” which means they fail to understand the overriding issue with projects they supervise because of excessive attention to detail. They lose track of the overall picture. This is dangerous because, to add yet another analogy, no one is steering the ship.
A micromanager tends to think that they know best and their way is the only way. That’s a narrow-minded approach because there may be many ways to achieve a goal. New and innovative processes emerge by empowering employees with the freedom to experiment. Instead, micromanagers will tend to give strict, long-winded instructions that give little latitude for creativity.
Although a micromanager may require constant status updates, they see no need to get input from their team on anything else. On the other hand, a respected team leader will ask for suggestions and ask questions to encourage participation and engagement. They are humble enough to realize that they have a lot to learn too, and they realize the benefits of a group effort.
A micromanager will tend to control the situation and not encourage others to join in. Look for constant interruptions, not listening to others' ideas, and talking over others to express their own opinions. This type of person may also frequently bring up their education or experience to show that they are qualified to share their opinion. Whatever their background, it does not always equate to knowing the best route to take.
Micromanagers want to be involved in everything, and many of them will request to be copied on emails. Of course, they should be cc’d on certain topics, but good leaders minimize the amount of incoming information so they can focus on the big picture. Also, if the boss is cc’d on every email, this creates a culture of distrust within the organization damaging morale and affecting teamwork.
In some cases, a micromanaging work style is necessary. For example, if someone learns a new skill or process, they may have to be closely watched to avoid mistakes. However, in general, micromanaging indicates a lack of trust and is extremely unproductive. Here’s why.
The manager who micromanages has no time for overall management.
Employees do not feel trusted to do their work. They become frustrated and exhibit low levels of employee engagement. This leads to higher staff turnover.
There is no innovation or advancement in processes and operations.
Direct reports are unlikely to advance professionally or learn new skills under a controlling micromanager.
Today’s workforce wants autonomy. According to a Gallup study, 43% of younger workers are less likely to experience burnout when they can choose and manage their tasks.
By constantly looking over everyone’s shoulder, managers make everyone afraid to make a mistake and create a climate of fear.
In hybrid work models, micromanagers may resort to methods like monitoring tools. These can destroy trust if not used appropriately causing workers to disengage.
If you suspect you may have micromanaging tendencies, a career coach or mentor can help you assess your behavior and find ways to become a better leader. If you suspect you are working for a micromanager, you might want to consider whether you should stay in your position.
You are unlikely to advance professionally in your current work environment and will probably become increasingly unhappy. Again, a career coach can help you to make the right decisions. In the meantime, here are some tips that should help you manage your situation in the short term.
If your manager wants things done in a particular way, by clarifying those up front you avoid your boss needing to constantly direct you. They will be confident that you are following the path and directions agreed to.
Micromanage your manager and give them a taste of their own medicine by keeping them updated on your progress. Request a weekly one-on-one to check that you and your boss’s goals are aligned. By communicating with your boss at regular intervals, you reassure them that you are on track, hopefully removing the need for them to check on you.
Project management tools and shared Google Docs and spreadsheets can preserve your sanity. Rather than crafting emails and reports, you can refer your supervisor to these tools and meet your manager's needs for updates. Also, real-time communication platforms, like Slack, can keep your boss in the loop at all times and minimize their micromanaging behavior.
If you do an outstanding job, your boss will be more inclined to trust you to do your best work in the future. If you do a mediocre job, that will encourage your boss to be concerned and to feel the need to micromanage your deliverables.
Rather than wait for your boss to give you feedback. Ask them for feedback often to have an idea of whether you are gaining their trust. Again, by being proactive, you are pre-empting any action on their part.
Related, “9 Tips for Giving Feedback”
A micromanager can only take steps to change their ways if they are aware that they need to. It can be an eye-opener to learn that our leadership style needs to be improved or is detrimental to a group’s productivity.
Anonymous surveys can elicit feedback from a group of employees who cannot express their feelings otherwise because they fear retaliation. Consider talking to human resources if your organization does not use such a tool and see if they might be open to instituting one.
A micromanager has good intentions, but they can be misplaced. A manager may fear making mistakes and think that more control and constant updates can mitigate the risks. As an employee, recognize the effect of this kind of behavior on you and your career if you cannot manage the situation or change things for the better.
If you suspect that you are a micromanager yourself, take steps to learn how you can become a better leader and include others in decision-making. There are excellent leadership courses that can help. Lastly, remember that whatever situation you are in, consulting a career professional, counselor, or mentor can provide the answers and guidance you're looking for.