How to Work with a Micromanager

Updated: Mar 7


One of the biggest employee complaints of any leader, regardless of level and industry, is micromanagement. This is persistent, excessive supervision.


Instead of assigning work and letting the employee complete it using their best judgement and skills, the manager oversees each decision and action. This is different than the occasional extra oversight for a new employee or high-profile project.


This is excessive, unnecessary supervision on a routine basis.


To the employee, it feels like an absence of trust. It is stifling and frustrating. To the manager, it feels like a focus on high performance and results. They often say, “I have very high expectations for my team”.


Yet, this leadership style holds everyone back.


Micromanagers create teams that are either dependent on or unwilling to act without the leader’s opinion. They are then often rendered incapable of independent decision-making, critical thinking, and problem-solving. This, in turn, often burns out the leader because they are involved in far more work and decision-making than is necessary.


These leaders get frustrated too, wanting their teams to make more decisions or think more critically but don’t realize their own micromanaging behavior is compromising it.


Is micromanaging wrong? No. It is a legitimate leadership style, one that is employed frequently.


Are there better ways to lead? Definitely. The biggest problem with micromanagement is it quashes motivation by robbing teams of self-determination. You can read all about that here, The Secret to Employee Motivation.


However, there are many leaders who receive promotions and achieve great success micromanaging. If you work for one, it is not an isolated incident.


This means it is wise to build a skill set for effectively working with one.


It’s Not About You, It’s About Them

The most frequent conclusion drawn by employees who work for a micromanager is, “they don’t trust me” or “they don’t think I can do the job.” Unless you have done something specific to create mistrust (you’ve lied, broken commitments, or repeatedly made the same mistakes), then their micromanaging likely isn’t about you.


People who are micromanagers often believe they need to know all the answers. If someone asks them a question related to their operation and they don’t know the answer, they feel embarrassed. Embarrassment is an emotion we all work hard to avoid. Many also feel their way is the best way, believing how they perform is superior to alternative approaches. Afterall, they were likely promoted into leadership based on their successful individual performance. Finally, micromanagers tend to have a low tolerance for ambiguity. This means, when they don’t know the details of what is happening, it creates uncertainty and a fear that they may not be doing all they need to for team success.


It is important to understand that micromanaging is not an intentional approach to ruining your work experience. It has everything to do with them, the manager, and does not have to do with you, the employee.


Don’t Expect Them to Change, Learn to Adapt

It is reasonable to feel indignant or be frustrated from what feels like unfair treatment with micromanaging. “They need to change, not me.”


But likely, your boss won’t change, and you have no control over them making any changes. You only have control over yourself and your reactions to their behavior.

Now that you know micromanaging isn’t about trust or your competence, you can adapt your mind-set and performance to work more effectively with the micromanager.


Accept and Get to Know Them

Their management style is a valid approach to leadership, they are not doing anything unethical or wrong. Sometimes, just accepting their style for what it is diminishes the judgement and frustration within yourself, making working together easier. This is to “roll with it.” Accept it and move on.


Then, try to get to know them better. Get curious and ask about what kind of pressure they’re under, what it is like to work for their boss, who they respect in the organization, and what projects are most exciting to them. These small conversations go a long way in building rapport between leaders and teams.


While we often put the expectation on leaders to have these conversations with their staff, teams own fostering these conversations with their bosses too.


Discuss Expectations and Deadlines

A prominent behavior of micromanaging is frequent “checking-in”. The boss asks questions about progress, decisions, steps taken, and information gathered. The time it takes to ask and for the employee to answer is often wasteful.


Instead, ask your boss for expectations up front, or work these questions into your routine check-ins, such as:

  • When would you like this completed?

  • What format would you like it in?

  • Is there a particular process you would like me to take or people you would like me to speak to?

  • How would you like to be informed of progress along the way? How frequently?

By having this conversation first, you are not only getting a clear picture up front, but you are also tacitly acknowledging your boss’s need for information and certainty. Many bosses not only appreciate this, but it also helps build trust between the two of you.


If you work for a micromanager, it is not an extenuating circumstance. It is a common and well-used leadership style. Getting to know them, asking for expectations up front, and being helpful can make working together much easier for all.


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Until next time!

 

Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.


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