David Wray

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Breaking Free from Micromanaging Bosses!

Dilbert's micromanaging boss, created by Scott Adams.

Micromanaging bosses stunt personal growth

Micromanaging is a managerial process of closely observing, controlling and/or reminding employees of the work required. It is generally seen as a negative management style because it stunts or limits freedom. That is, the freedom to meet agreed-upon business objectives in our own way (or style). 

Why does micromanaging happen at all? First, it helps to recognize that this managerial style has absolutely no correlation to your performance as an employee. It’s more about your bosses’ level of internal anxiety and his or her need to control situations. The pandemic has undoubtedly accentuated this trait in many respects.

So, what does this mean in practical terms? 

It means that we cannot change the way our boss leads the team, however, we can decide how we want to follow using a few helpful tools and techniques. Whereas, if you are the micromanaging boss, you too can take some tangible steps to manage this tendency for the benefit of the team. 

Let’s take a closer look at both sides of this issue. 

Tips for dealing with micromanaging individuals

It can be tough some days to work in a team where the boss micromanages, so it helps to retain perspective. Micromanagement has a spectrum, ranging from perfectionist leaders eager to ensure high quality to compulsive leaders eager to assert power.

Micromanaging continuum of behaviours. Copyright David Wray, 2021

The best course of action is to try to determine what is causing the boss’s behaviour. 

Is he/she under unusual pressure to deliver something? Does the company encourage (or worse still) reward the kind of behaviour the boss is exhibiting? Perhaps the behaviour is his/her way of naturally managing? Does the boss feel threatened in some way by another person? 

Once we recognize and understand the underlying reason(s) for the behaviour, we will know how to react.

Listening as a way to manage better micromanaging bosses. Dilbert Cartoon created by Scott Adams.

Three guiding principles are particularly helpful when dealing with a micromanaging boss:

  1. Earn trust
  2. Communicate frequently
  3. Pre-agree strategies

Trust

Healthy relationships always need trust. This quite simply means we need to earn that trust and do so in areas that matter to the boss. We learn what matters to individuals by listening, effectively listening.  For instance, if you notice that your boss is under immense pressure you could say: “I notice you’re under pressure from HQ, how can I help you?” A genuine step to help is a giant stride towards building trust. In this respect, it is important to go out of your way to earn trust. This is the key to greater autonomy!

Communication

Micromanaging is driven by anxiety or nervousness about something. A simple tip to manage it is by keeping the boss informed about what he/she cares about (a project, an operational process, etc.). This is effectively handled through regular one-to-ones, written reports, cc’ing on relevant emails amongst other things. Be as specific or as high-level with the detail as the boss’s own preference. There is no doubt that doing this is time-consuming, and at times frustrating, but it often saves effort in the fullness of time. 

Pre-agreements

Spend some time before the work starts to pre-agree some basic standards and the outcomes expected. By outlining our view of the ideal work plan and asking for input or feedback, we set a tone of inclusion and trust with the boss. The work plan needs to be based on the objectives desired rather than the nitty-gritty detail. For instance, you’re tasked with delivering finance for non-finance people training. The conversation should focus on the key learning messages and not the font size on handout materials. If the conversation moves into the weeds (so to speak), gently bring it back to the approach and principles you agreed on at the outset. 

In each of these principles, flattery of course will get you everywhere with the boss BUT only if it is done with sincerity and benevolence. A good example is suggesting that their time is valuable and better spent on 10,000m issues rather than minor details (like the font).

Tips for dealing with our own micromanaging tendencies

If we switch gears and briefly consider this topic from the micromanaging individual’s point of view.

In most cases, we all typically prefer to depend on ourselves. If this preference moves into a reluctance to delegate or empower others, it implicitly conveys a lack of trust. Meaning that we don’t trust others to perform as expected. The catch-22 issue surfaces when leaders then micromanage even more. In so doing, they have less time for delivering on what else matters. And, the team itself fails to develop.

A few leadership remedies that are effective here are:

  • Let the team help you
  • Work on developing patience (through pre-agreed checkpoints or in-progress checks)
  • Show team members how to do something you want done (pass on your knowledge)

The micromanaging boss’s perspective will be covered in greater detail in a future blog. 

Final Thoughts

The more we empower and delegate, the more we develop other individuals and the team. The stronger the team capabilities, the more enjoyable the leadership role often becomes!

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your views on how you successfully manage micromanaging bosses or what you do to curb your own micromanaging tendencies. What is your advice for others?

Give it a try!


Dilbert cartoons: Scott Adams

Spectrum diagram: David Wray

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