Help for the Micro-Manager


When I think about people who worry A LOT, one colleague of mine (let’s call him “Sam”) comes immediately to mind. He worries about anything and everything.

Did I say the right thing?Is the team perfectly prepared for every contingency?Can I answer every question?

Casual is a no-no. Off-the-cuff is verboten. Winging it is a moral offense.

Clearly, being a worrier is a burden not just to Sam, but for those who work for him. His highly-developed sense of worry translates into micro-managing behavior.

Sam over-manages his staff in an effort to keep things under his power and somehow stop things from going wrong.

We all see what's driving this. He worries about losing control.

From the outside, he looks more than a little ridiculous.

Control is an illusion. 

A person may act as if he is in charge and on some days he may even feel he is managing everything perfectly, but those feelings are misleading.

The truth is we're all one snowstorm, phone call, or accident away from having our whole world changed.  The control we think we have isn't as stable, permanent, or guaranteed as we'd like to believe.

Consider how much havoc something as simple as the weather (let alone an illness or a surprise letter from the IRS) can wreak on your day.

The issue isn’t whether or not you’re in control (because you’re not), the issue is whether or not you allow your life to be governed and ruled by worry over those potential problems.

If you suspect you're guilty of being a helicopter manager, hovering over your staff, here are some practical ways to break the cycle.

1. Start a dialog with your team

Humble yourself and tell your group you recognize your micro-managing tendencies and you want to stop communicating distrust. OWN your issue. You'll be shocked how much this act of transparent confession will register with them....and how much they might agree with you!

The greatest benefit is this will help create a safe environment for people to talk with you.

Know this, though;  you can ask your team if they feel over-managed, but most people (even with the intro above) won’t feel safe enough to be completely candid.  They will hedge and offer reassurances that everything’s fine.  Don’t let their words throw you off your plan.

Keep pushing for dialogue and open communication channels.

2. Unplug from the information flow

Believe it or not, you don’t need to know everything everyone is doing.  Yes, micro-manager-(wo)man, you CAN survive without knowing where everyone spends every second of his or her day, exactly what they are working on, and every conversation that they are having!

Instead of hovering over every fact, back up from the information flow.  Leave some room for people to work.  Ask for summaries, not play-by-plays of projects assigned to your team.

3. Ask for feedback & don’t argue with what you hear!

Instead of burning energy talking about the work of others, try asking a few questions on how YOU can work better.

Some of these questions could be: How can I help you? What differences would you like to see from me? If you could change something about how I/we operate, what would it be? How can I give you more space to work without leaving you feeling abandoned?

Ask someone outside your group and/or reporting structure to give you feedback on your style.  They'll bring a valuable perspective from the outside in.  If you want to get even better advice from them, ask them to survey some of your team for their thoughts before they tell you theirs.

Better still, work with a coach.

4. Take on more work!

The more you own your own projects, the less time you’ll have to worry about the rest of the group.  Bottom line.

Keep practicing these skills.  Initially they will feel unnatural and unwieldy.   If you’re used to hovering, backing off won’t be easy, but  will be worth it.  Don’t expect or promise immediate change; express a commitment to growth.

You can't control as much as you think in this world, but you CAN control you.

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