how to deal with a micromanager

One of the most common complaints that people have about their boss is that they’re being micromanaged — their work is being overly scrutinized, the boss is checking up on things they don’t need to check up on, and they generally feel they’re not trusted.

First, let’s define micromanagement.  There’s a difference between hands-on management and micromanagement. A micromanager dictates exactly how to do something and watches over every little step in the process, refusing to truly delegate any decisions — and in the process, lowers morale and productivity. But good, hands-on managers do get heavily involved in ensuring that employees are clear on the desired outcomes, and they do check in on progress (so that employees can make needed adjustments before it’s too late). So don’t confused being hands-on with micromanaging.

However, if your boss has crossed over from being hands-on into micromanagement, one of two things is going on: (1) Your boss is micromanaging you because you have given her reason to, or (2) Your boss is micromanaging you because she’s a micromanager in general.

In situation #1, people rarely ask, “What have I done that’s inspiring this scrutiny from my boss?” Instead, they’re often just annoyed by it, which prevents them from being able to take the actions that could change it. If you more than very occasionally drop the ball on things, forget details, don’t follow up on things, miss deadlines, or produce work that requires a lot of changes from others, a good manager <i>would</i> get more closely involved — because ultimately the manager’s job is to ensure that the work is done well, and in this scenario, a good manager would have reason not to go on faith. (Of course, if this sort of scrutiny continues to be required in the long-term, a good manager would also address the problem in a larger context — meaning helping the person improve or transitioning them out.) So the first step is to ask yourself some tough questions to figure out if the problem is actually you.

But if you’re confident that your boss has no reason to doubt your work and/or your ability to stay on top of it, then this may simply be the style she uses with everyone, without adapting based on need. If this is the case, try talking to her. Give specific examples of projects where you felt you could have worked more effectively if you weren’t on such a short leash, and ask if there’s anything you’re doing that makes her feel she can’t trust you and how you can work with more autonomy.  Suggest other ways to keep her in the loop, such as weekly reports and/or weekly meetings, so that she doesn’t feel she needs to check in as much. If she’s resistant, suggest experimenting with giving you more autonomy on one specific project to see how it goes.

In the best case, this approach can convince a boss to ease up and find more appropriate ways to stay involved. But if nothing else, this approach will at least tell you whether or not things are likely to ever change. And if you learn that they’re not, you can then decide if it’s something you’re willing to live with or not.

{ 3 comments… read them below }

  1. Mandatory Vacation*

    What about the reverse: bosses who don’t give enough feedback for you to know if you’re doing the right thing?

  2. Anonymous*

    Hi. I am a manager of a sizeable department of 10+ staff, I was brought onboard primarily to free up my bosses time and line manage the team as a specialist. My boss is not a specialist in my field (and the field of my team).

    Soon after joining the company I noticed my boss would ask to run ecscalations & strategic decisions by him first, deliver a weekly report, hold a fortnightly status meeting, chair a monthly department meeting – to which are all fair and reasonable requests.

    Not long afterwards, my boss soon asked me to "run all decisions by him first", then any discussions I had planned with other departments/managers, then he added himself into my staffs email distribution lists (they've noticed and no longer use them for communication). If Im seen having a conversation with a manager from another department Im asked what the conversation was about.

    Im in an awkward position now where my boss has told me he feels "left out of the loop" and would now like to sit in on the informal meeting I hold with my senior staff on a regular basis. In addition to that, he would now also like to set up a new weekly meeting with my staff to discuss progress….the progress that is usually documented in the weekly reports. The list grows, and so do the number of status meetings, reports..you get the picture!

    It is starting to erode my self-confidence, I am left feeling unable to make decisions involving my staff without having to defer and refer trivia to my boss. I have 10 years experience in my field, these events result in me questioning my own judgement, my abilities and skills.

    Im unsure how to approach my boss to discuss this (it will be my 2nd attempt!) and I would be grateful for any advise and guidance you have to resolve this. Thanks!

  3. John T.*

    Been there. I actually had a sitution where there was three in my department and two were managers of lonely me. I got so fed up when they said two different things and then one wrote me up, that I tore up the paper and screamed at the top of my lungs. I was so mad I could not help myself. That was the wrong way to handle it. I later had a meeting with my managers boss and explained the problem and situation and he apologized for not realizing how bad it had become. Try doing that in stead and maybe it will calm the storm.

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