When your boss is a micromanager

Dear Joan:
I am a psychology student at a large university, and came across your impressive information online.  I would like to ask you a question related to your area of expertise:
What specific, practical ideas and tools do you find most useful in helping someone who works for a micro-manager (Say, a psychologist at a university counseling center, and the manager over works them, over manages them; there is high burnout and turnover, etc.)?
Management is about control…control of resources, processes and outcomes. Micromanagement is about over control. Sometimes micromanagement is necessary, but most of the time it is stifling and counterproductive.
When is it necessary? When a business is in its “startup” phase, founders must stay close to the details, because every penny and every decision counts. Even in a seasoned business, when a high risk decision could have huge consequences, micromanagement usually occurs. When an employee isn’t performing well, a leader often begins to move in and scrutinize activities and becomes more directive.
But outside of these kinds of high risk situations, overly controlling managers squeeze the life out of productivity and morale.
Since the manager is the one with power, pushing back can be a challenge. However, there are some steps that might ease their tight grip.
Before you identify a strategy for pushing back, it helps to zero in on the cause of the controlling behavior. Some of the common causes:
  • He thinks no one can do it better than he can.
  • He thinks his staff is too inexperienced, or unskilled.
  • She thinks she can do it faster and taking time to teach others, slows things down.
  • He gets so much satisfaction from doing the work; he doesn’t want to delegate it to others.
  • She feels so much ownership (and angst) about the results; she fears letting someone else do it, because her neck is on the line.
Sometimes the micromanager will react favorably to an honest plea, such as: “When you step in and do my work for me, it tells me you don’t have confidence in my ability. If I’m not doing something right, I want to know, but I’ll never grow my abilities unless I get to do my work myself. Could you just give me suggestions but let me handle it?”
To the type A, who thinks they are “faster” and more efficient: “The more you do, the more behind you get, and I do less and less. If you don’t let me help you, you will burn out and that won’t be good for our business. You need to leverage yourself. If you take a few minutes on the front end and tell me what you want, I’ll take it from there, and check in with you as I go. It will free you up to do X, which we really need to grow the business.”
“I notice you check on me daily, and tell me what you want me to do on this project. I get the feeling you don’t trust me to do it right…” (Then listen for feedback, if there is any).
“I can come in and work the extra hours you want but I am burning out …I notice I’m not as effective as I usually am. Can we discuss a better schedule/workload that meets both of our needs?”
“If I do X, like you want me to, I won’t have time for Y. Which one should I spend my time on?”
“I could use more direction and expectations on the front of projects. That way we won’t have to meet so often during the project. That will save you time and will give me more momentum to get results faster.”
Often, micromanagers don’t make the connection between their behavior and the frustration and turnover they cause. It’s as if they have a blind spot. If they are lucky enough to get a good boss, who can coach them into an appropriate level of control, their career often blooms. If they aren’t coached, or if they can’t change, they usually derail.
Eventually, they will lose too many good employees, or a revealing exit interview will get to the president, or a project will go so badly, something will have to be done. At that point, the micromanager will either be fired, or demoted back into a technical role. In the case of the entrepreneur who over controls, the business will either remain stunted or die, unless an outside stakeholder intervenes.
You always have the option of leaving, which, unfortunately, is the path most people take. Instead, why not try to assert yourself a little first, and see if that makes a difference?

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, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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