Micromanagement Anyone?

Anyone who’s been in the workforce for any length of time has probably experienced, to some degree or another, the hell that is micromanagement.  To understand what you are up against, let’s begin with trip inside the mind of the micromanager.

The more some people are given responsibility the more they fear losing control. To reduce their anxieties they seek information in as many ways as possible, resulting in over-reporting, multiple unplanned meetings, and helicopter management. Because this behaviour is usually unconscious, it is also haphazard which is even more frustrating and disruptive. Secondly, micromanagement is often about needing to stay in one’s comfort zone. Many managers are promoted on their ability to focus on detail and get things done, and not on their people and project management skills. For some people it’s just not possible to adjust to leadership and so they remain stuck in the comfort of doing their old jobs, to the detriment of their teams.  There’s also a theory that a certain type of manager believes that people are basically lazy and need to be constantly prodded to get anything done.

So what can we do about it? If you have been told you are a micromanager, then it’s probably true. Here are some tips on how to address some of the classic symptoms.

  • Firstly, face up to your fear of failure. You are not the only one to feel this way so learn to manage your insecurities for your sake and the sake of your staff.
  • To avoid over measurement, select one or two metrics for the success of a project. Focus on them and ignore everything else.
  • Don’t worry about reaching consensus on every little thing. Arrange a limited number of meetings in advance to gather inputs, then set and keep a deadline for decision-making.
  • Identify one overriding priority for each team member and for each team, then leave them to it. If they need help they will ask.
  • Don’t be afraid to let your staff fail from time to time. If they can’t or don’t learn from their mistakes, then that’s another issue.

And, here are some ways to help manage your micromanager:

  • Don’t give your micromanager any reason to nitpick.  Do your job and do it well.
  • If you don’t have a job description or are not clear what is required of you – ask!
  • Anticipate their needs and be proactive.  Perhaps even give them what they want before they realise they want it.  Remember M.A.S.H’s Radar?  Be like Radar.
  • Keep your micromanager updated and proactively, and don’t forget to work out ‘how’ they prefer to be updated to ensure that your updates are both received and understood appropriately.  Over time s/he should see you are a safe pair of hands and can learn to let go.
  • Communicate your own needs clearly. Suggest that your manager step back and let you take charge of a project. If you follow the advice above, there could be happy outcomes for everyone.

Of course there will be times when it’s not possible to manage your micromanager. Don’t beat yourself up. If you know you are performing well, you cannot be held accountable for someone who is not yet ready to be a leader. Mentioning the problem at your exit interview (do contractors still have those?) and high staff turnover will send the message soon enough.


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