Beware of the micro-manager

Dear Joan:
For the sake of the employee who has to work in the trenches day in and day out, please provide a list to distinguish a good manager from a bad one. In a strong corporate culture, I have seen the type "A" micro manager who accepts no excuses and expects the employees to change to the manager's ways. They are controlling to the very last detail. They can be more successful at motivating employees than empowering mangers. (Of course, most of the employees of the micro managers are afraid and stifled.) Shouldn't the manager challenge himself in motivating the employees by changing his role to fit each situation?

Where does the responsibility of the manager end? You know the old saying, "You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink." As a manager do you let the horses dehydrate and possibly die, or do you "whip" them into drinking?

As employees we may not be able to change the bad manager, but at least we may be able to identify if we are working for one and decide if WE must make a change.

Your question is being asked a lot lately. Managers who used to carry whips are being told to throw them away and they aren't sure how to "motivate" employees without them. Managers are confused about empowerment. Some think it means the manager no longer has as much responsibility and accountability and that employees are in control. Not true.

In a nutshell, the leader who empowers treats employees as adults instead of subordinates. Let's do a comparison between the micro manager you describe and a more enlightened manager who understands the true meaning of empowerment. Let's call the micro-manager "M" and the empowering manager "E." Then you decide which one you would rather work for.

·        M believes that employees will try to get away with as much as possible unless you check up on them and let them know who's boss. On the other hand, E operates from the philosophy that most employees want to do the right thing and they enjoy a challenge. Ironically, both managers end up reinforcing their own theories, since they're self-fulfilling. M treats people like children who can't be trusted and, sure enough, his resentful employees begin proving him right. E puts a lot of trust in his employees and they usually don't let him down.

·        M usually doesn't share information about the "big picture." She believes that strategy and goals are her job. She thinks her subordinates' don't need to know them and probably wouldn't understand them anyway. Consequently, she must direct their every move, since they don't know why they are doing tasks...only that they must do them exactly the way the way they are told. E is always talking about how each employee's tasks fit into the company's goals and strategy. She believes that the more information her employees know, the more they will be able to think on their own.

·        M thinks most employees only work for a paycheck. E believes that employees are motivated when they are growing and taking on new challenges. M treats employees like a dispensable pair of hands. E works with each employee to find out what they're goals and abilities are and looks for opportunities to develop the employee by giving them larger areas of responsibility or projects in which they're interested.

·        M thinks of himself as an important decision-maker and a supervisor of people. E thinks of himself as a leader who is pointing the way toward organizational goals and a teacher/coach who educates his employees so together they can make better decisions.

·        M orders people to do what she wants and she gets compliance by threatening them. M's employees do what she wants but they tend to hide mistakes, make excuses and only do what they are told. E explains the results she's looking for, and gives employees more freedom to solve problems on their own, learn from their mistakes, and suggest improvement ideas. E doesn't accept excuses either; she insists that employees take responsibility for their own behavior.

·        M tries to "whip subordinates into drinking" and when they don't they're fired. E explains why drinking is in their own best interest, and encourages and teaches them to drink on their own. If they refuse, they fire themselves.

·        M makes the decisions and only tells people what they need to know. E makes decisions, too, but includes people whenever possible. E operates on a continuum of decision-making...the more it will affect employees and will require their buy -in, the more she invites involvement.

To answer your question about a manager's need to change his or her role to fit the situation...yes, I think they need to adjust to the situation and to the employees' readiness and willingness to be empowered. It doesn't happen overnight.

Who do you want to work for-- M or E?

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
About Joan Lloyd
Joan Lloyd & Associates provide
FREE subscription to receive Joan's article by email

Email Joan to submit your question for consideration for publication, request permission to reprint an article for distribution, or for information about carrying Joan Lloyd's weekly column in your publication, or on your Internet or Intranet site. Visit to search an archive of more than 1700 of Joan's articles.
© Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc.