Micromanagement: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Do you remember what it was like when you were a kid, sweating your way through an exam, and a teacher came and stood right behind you? You knew exactly how bacteria felt under a microscope. Your entire being was minutely aware of the observation. You couldn’t write a word but that was ok because you couldn’t remember anything anyway. When they clomped away you exhaled a breath you didn’t know you were holding and had to consciously refocus on the questions in front of you.

That’s how people feel under micromanagement.


Fairly or not, micromanagers are perceived as control freaks who believe so strongly in the adage “if you want something done right, do it yourself” that they are half an inch away from commandeering your keyboard and doing your work for you.

They are generally resented by their staff, who would give anything for a smidgeon of trust and respect.

Micromanagement also undermines company processes, holds back progress, stifles creativity and innovation, causes undue delays, doubles up on work done and loses sight of the bigger picture. How something is done is usually considered more important than what is achieved, so good results will be ignored and even condemned if ‘proper’ processes weren’t followed. That is, if the manager wasn’t informed every step of the way and didn’t get final approval – even if final approval isn’t necessary.

Because micromanagers insist on being in on every single step of a process, they usually claim responsibility for good work done by others, while their narcissistic characters allow them to guiltlessly pass the buck.

All of which leads to closed communication channels, unmotivated staff, high employee turnover, diminishing productivity and a culture of avoidance.

Why do people micromanage?

For a host of internal and external reasons.

Internal reasons, the ones that psychologists deal with, include fear, insecurity, emotional dysfunction and even mental disorders like OCD.

External reasons, the ones the company needs to deal with as a whole, include company culture, company pressure, economic trends, industry development and change.

Leadership and Management Coaching

Photo Credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/us_embassy_newzealand/5043432842/

How do you deal with a micromanager?

The most obvious answer is to find a new job, but that isn’t always possible, especially in a dicey economy. You have to learn to manage your manager.

An article by Deborah L Jacobs, published on Forbes, provides eight steps for long suffering employees to effectively deal with their controlling managers. These steps include:

  • Staying one step ahead of your manager, know when something is going to be required and have it ready before it has to be asked for. It’s a pain but it eases tension.
  • Walk a mile in your manager’s shoes; try to understand the motivation behind micromanagement. If you can see where your manager is coming from it might help you come up with a workable solution to the problem.
  • Don’t let it slide, but don’t retaliate with a hammer. Pick a good time and ask to speak to your manager about something important. Jacobs suggests that you start off by supporting your manager’s strengths before letting them know how the management style makes you feel. Mention second guessing and lack of trust.

Amber Naslund (Brass Tack Thinking) has a couple of other suggestions, including:

  • Make a point to keep all lines of communication open – and to use them regularly.
  • Always ensure that you fully understand what is required of you, repeating instructions back to your manager if need be. This avoids unnecessary blaming and finger-pointing and I-told-you-sos.
  • Whenever there is a letup in micromanagement pounce on it and thank them for trusting you and for giving you space and for letting you shine. The gaps could become more frequent – provided you never drop the ball.

This guest post was written by Sandy Cosser on behalf of The Coaching Company, which provides leadership and management coaching to help you avoid problems like micromanagement and resistance to change.

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