The Menace of Micromanagement

Micromanager; Boss; frustration; control; manipulate; employee morale; decreased productivity; unnecessary reports; control freak; low self-awareness; over-intellectualize; empowerment.

Suddenly you become aware of his warm breath in your neck. The boss is watching over your shoulder again. He is there for one of three reasons: you have forgotten to dot an “i” in the unnecessary report to be completed every day at 16:15; or he wants to discuss his latest spreadsheet tracker detailing the use of stationery, staples and paper clips on a daily basis; or he wants to make sure that you are confined to your cubicle for eight hours.

It doesn’t matter how successful or diligent you are. Sooner or later you will report to a micromanager, who obsessively controls and manipulates you to the point of desperation. By default, a micromanager’s sense of empowering people has been surgically removed at birth. A checklist for everything acts as magnetic north. Harry Chambers explains that “micromanagers always have their antennae up, trying to detect … violations”. To you it might feel like a classical lose-lose situation. If you get frustrated and tell the boss to back off, you get accused of having a bad attitude and not being a team player. If you keep quiet, you get accused of not displaying any initiative. Join the crowd!

The dilemma in today’s corporate world is that many teams are totally over-managed and completely under-led. It feels if you are controlled like a robot and second-guessed every step of the way. Rick Brenner calls it “nanomanaging”. Everything needs to get approved beforehand and double checked afterwards. 70% of what a micromanager labels as “efficiency” consists of making it complicated for people to perform their daily duties. Micromanagement is exactly the opposite of empowerment. Employees hate micro-management passionately. They want to be inspired and led. Micromanagers need to learn that they can’t and shouldn’t force people to be like themselves. The result will always be low morale and decreased productivity. Marcus Buckingham hits the nail on the head: “you can’t standardize human behaviour”.

So why is your manager a “control freak”?

Why does he dictate how you should do your work or magnifies your every move under a microscope? It is important to understand what motivates a micromanager to command and control, even if it is unknowingly. More often than not, he dreads being wrong! His biggest fear is not being able to instantly have all the facts ready at his fingertips at a moment’s notice. Most micromanagers tend to have a controlling tendency and simply don’t believe that outstanding work will be done without their constant intervention. They might be offended by any suggestion that people under their span of control suffer under their dictating style. This is a reflection of their typical low level of self-awareness. Micromanagers do not realize that they end up doing more harm than good for employee morale.

Sometimes the reason for micromanaging can be more serious. Personal insecurity and an excessive ego drive the boss to be absolutely in control at all times. This makes life unbearable for those around him. Again, he will be very surprised (and even offended) when confronted with this frustrating reality.

Very often the result of micromanagement is diminished performance on the team. Sadly this strengthens the perception of a micromanager, that “employees can’t be trusted”. There is an incalculable cost to pay in the business world for low self-awareness!

How do you manage your micromanager?

It is crucial to learn how to work better with this type of manager. Your future success in the organisation might depend on it. It is highly unlikely that you are going to change your boss. Keeping a micromanager at a safe distance is equally difficult. Face the reality. If you are reporting to a micromanager, then accept it. Coping skills and effective communication are the keys to successfully managing your micromanager. You should try your utmost to maintain a productive working relationship. As you observe the boss, you will realize that he micromanages certain people less. Try to find out the reason for this. Ask their advice and learn from it. In tough times you can even ask someone who have a good relationship with the boss, to lobby your case with him. Make sure that you can trust this person, before deciding to follow this route.

One of the best lines of “defence” is your diligence in clarifying expectations and keeping a paper trail of everything that you have done. A micromanager loves the constant flow of updates and reports. Practice the daily discipline of filing and recording the facts “black on white”.

Jump at the opportunity of “structured” slots to speak up and give your boss feedback. Performance reviews, salary discussions, incentive reviews and any other relevant platforms will not threaten your boss. This gives you an “official” opportunity to tactfully discuss what makes you “tick” and to communicate the desire for more flexibility and ownership. Never criticize your boss behind his back, rather speak to him in person. The grapevine and gossip has never solved any boss problems. Honest and sincere communication builds trust and protects your integrity.

If the micromanaging gets too tough, you can always make a confidential appointment with human resources to get their input and advice. In the worst case scenario remember this: you are not a victim. The choice is yours to move on and to work for another boss.

So what is the ultimate solution?

Just like Clark Kent goes through a telephone booth to become Superman, micromanagers need to learn how to transform themselves into leaders of people. They need to learn not to over-intellectualize tactical issues and avoid getting into a stupor over statistics. Leaders focus relentlessly on simplicity, empowerment and people development. Micromanagers help employees to perceive themselves as they are, while leaders help them to understand what they can become in future. Micromanagers just twist your arm, but leaders sway your opinion.

© 2006 – 2015, Estienne de Beer. All rights reserved.