Career Advice

November 29, 2013

Micromanaged: How to control a control freak

Micromanaged: How to control a control freak

Micromanagement: It’s a dreaded word. Having a micromanager for a boss can be a huge source of stress.

When you ask people to characterize a micromanager, they say things like:

“He leaves me a detailed list of exactly what I have to do and how I have to do it. I have absolutely no latitude at all.”

“She sends me multiple emails a day, all labeled URGENT.”

“She reminds me of tasks I have to do several times a day, despite the fact that I always get them done each week.”

“He not only checks on my work, but goes to my subordinates and tries to control what they are doing.”

“Every decision I make has to be first checked with my boss for his approval.”

“I feel like I spend more time on giving updates than being able to actually get my work done.”

“No matter what I turn in, the boss finds problems with it -- nitpicky problems that just demoralize me. I wonder why I bother turning anything in since she will just find something wrong with it anyway.”

“It’s in my job description to make certain decisions, but I still am told I need to check with him for approval -- I feel stifled.”

“As soon as I make progress on a project, my boss pulls it back in and says he will now handle it.”

Essentially, micromanagers want to be in control, yet they can’t possibly do everything, so they continually check to see whether others have gotten their work done.

The downsides are the effects on morale and creativity in the workplace. Since their work will be overly reviewed and scrutinized, employees may wonder why they should bother trying hard to please. In addition, since they are tightly controlled, they may not be given chances to experiment or innovate. Thus, they will not take risks, which might be very important in some industries.

If you have a micromanager for a boss, what can you do about it? Some tips:

Think about your work. Is there anything you are doing (attitude, productivity, behaviors) that would suggest you need a manager hovering over you? Maybe you really are glossing over work and not pushing for closure on important projects, or maybe your priorities are not in alignment with the boss’s.

First, rule yourself out as the problem. Once you have carefully thought about yourself, you can decide what you might need to do to alter your own behavior.

Consider your boss’s priorities and make sure to get them done ahead of time. Then, send a note letting him or her know what you accomplished so there’s no need to check up on you.

Be a stellar performer. Micromanagers are often worried about performance, so you need to reassure them that you are putting your best foot forward.

Try to understand what is motivating your boss’s behaviors and need for control. This might help you in working with him or her.

Document your work so you can point to your progress when asked by anyone.

Try to gain his or her trust. Consider talking with your boss to get him or her to delegate more (and take a more hands-off approach). Start with smaller projects to show your successful independent work.

At the beginning of projects, it is important to talk to your boss to see how he or she will be involved. Setting expectations and role clarity can help. If your boss ever allows you to work on projects independently, make sure to show appreciation for these opportunities.

Try not to take it personally. Of course, this is very hard to do, but it is critical for employees to not let their boss destroy their self-confidence.

Most experts do not suggest fighting the micromanager head-to-head, since this can be counterproductive. Sometimes you just have to walk away from this type of manager, especially if it is destroying your quality of life.

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