What to do when you work for a micro-manager


I recently had lunch with a former colleague who is under siege at work. Through a series of unfortunate events, she now reports to a “Micro-manager." You know the type.

People who pride themselves on their perfectionism and on making OTHERS work perfectly. Their shenanigans include:

  •   Constant access to staff calendars (not just to check meeting availability)
  •   Watching the clock to make sure their staff doesn’t arrive late or leave early
  •   Asking others to monitor (and snitch) on co-worker activities
  •   Demanding real-time reporting (updates/status reports/spreadsheets) on projects that an employee is supposed to “own”

The ridiculousness of micro-managing is so cliché, I wonder why bosses don't recognize the pitfalls of their behavior.

When micromanaging,  you communicate at least five negative things:

  1. Distrust – “You won’t do the job unless I’m watching.”
  2. Pride/Superiority – “My instructions for doing the job are better than any method you might use."
  3. Power Trip – “ I will monitor your moves because it’s my right as your boss.”
  4. Insecurity – “I am afraid to give up any control to you.”
  5. Backward Priorities – “I have nothing better to do with my time than watch you.”

So why do people act this way?

There are at least three possible explanations for the micro-manager mindset. Either...

  1. the micro-manager isn't aware that his (or her) behavior is out of line,
  2. they think their approach is a legitimate way to lead a team.
  3. or they want to give up control, but don’t know how.

In a previous post, I outlined how Awareness Proceeds Choice & Choice Proceeds Change.  If a person doesn’t recognize their behavior (awareness), they won’t ever make decisions (choices) that will lead to different behavior (change).

If you work for a micro- manager who falls in group #1 above, it’s probably not realistic for you to act as a coach to them.  Similarly, if you work for manager  #2  (who believes hovering is best), you can't expect much change there either.

So for #1 and #2, polish up your resume and move on from your position ASAP.

However, if you work for someone who realizes they may have a tendency to over-manage, you do have a role to play in their growth.  A few simple (not easy) next steps:

Look for signs that the manager thinks they might be out of line. 

This includes apologizing for requests, covering up bad behavior, or over-compensating by sometimes UNDER-managing. If you see these things, offer reassurances that you're on the job regardless of the manager's mood of the day.

Avoid power struggles.

Recognize you ARE under your boss's authority, so keep a positive attitude when they ask for information (even when it feels like over-kill).  The more you fight and defend, the more your manager will dig in.

Find a good offense.

Find ways you can proactively give your boss information.  If you lead in communication, you can establish your own terms about how information moves around. Create a plan for being proactive and over-communicate.

Stay flexible.

Your ability to adjust to a demanding boss isn’t about just pleasing them, it trains you in the fine art of adaptability.  Odds are this won’t be your last encounter with a micro-manager!

Give grace.

Your nightmare boss has her (or his) own set of issues, fears, and pressures you can't fully understand or appreciate.  They are not your enemy, but they ARE giving you the “opportunity” to build your character and skill set.  Practicing patience always benefits you.

If you don’t work for a micro-manager, is there any chance that you could BE one? That's a post for another day!!