Having a Micromanaging Boss

As I expressed in my previous articles, I sense that besides the COVID-19 pandemic we also have a micromanagement epidemic. While you might resign yourself to accepting the rules and customs set by a micromanager, it doesn’t have to be that way. Despite how powerless you might feel, micromanagement can be fought, can be avoided, and shouldn’t be ignored.

While it might not look like it, micromanagement is a symptom of weak leadership, rather than a show of strength. Domineering, nitpicking managers lean towards micromanagement as a way to compensate for their own lack of confidence and sense of authority. By controlling every aspect of their employees’ work, they’re wordlessly saying that they can’t, or don’t, trust their employees to do the work they were hired to do. If micromanagement is a response to a real concern over the quality of work, it is a manager’s responsibility to find out the root cause and investigate solutions.

The presence of a micromanager is a great predictor for employee resignations. Employee turnover is expensive, morale-killing, and inefficient, so accepting overzealous management is bad for a company’s bottom line.

As unwise as micromanaging can be, it can be difficult to address the problem, as employees don’t want to be labeled as whiners or seem like they aren’t up to the task. Micromanagers can have a reputation (correctly, but misguidedly) as some of the hardest-working members in an organisation. To top it off, the employees who stay often do so only because they feel trapped: If they leave on bad terms with an impossible-to-please direct supervisor, they might have a hard time getting a reference for a job elsewhere. That same micromanaging boss likely won’t pass on knowledge or opportunities that might allow them any upward mobility within their current company. All of the above leads to lowered productivity and engagement from your workforce.

So how can you stop a micromanager’s momentum? Here are some well-tested methods of asserting your independence and giving your supervisor confidence in your ability to do the job you were hired to do.

Put yourself in their shoes.
First and foremost, remember that micromanagement is based on insecurity. If you can stand it, it might be possible to play the long game. Follow their rules, continue to do outstanding work and you might find that they eventually learn to trust you, allowing you the freedom to work independently.

Build their trust organically.
Insist on spearheading projects that are either no-brainers, or that you feel certain are within your expertise. As you consistently deliver excellent work, regularly communicate your progress. By doing so, you start a dialogue that increases your level of interaction, builds a stronger relationship and gives your boss confidence over time that you can take on similar projects.

Overfeed them.
Micromanagers typically want constant updates, reports and check-ins. Give a micromanager exactly what they want. Email every hour to let them know what you’re working on before they ask, and keep a log to track the projects that you have worked on. Odds are it’s not much more work than you’re already doing and they might just get tired of hearing from you and stop bugging you altogether.

Coach up.
Your boss’s insecurity might come from business-critical concerns that you might be unaware of. Do your research to find out what the “big picture” is they’re dealing with and find ways to show that you understand your role in it. Show your boss that you have some grasp of the high-stakes issues they’re dealing with, they’ll know they can have more confidence in your abilities.

Establish expectations.
Micromanagement is, by definition, when a supervisor/manager exerts too much control over the smallest details of their subordinates’ work. Circumvent this by scheduling a meeting with your boss to discuss what their expectations are of you and your role in the company. By forcing them to verbalise their expectations, you’ll have the chance to tell them, step-by-step, that you agree with and understand them. Once they’ve outlined in concrete terms what they expect from you, they’ll feel like they’ve put the ball in your court and now it’s on you to deliver results. Which is the kind of responsibility you wanted all along.

Talk it out.
Like most problems, micromanagement is exacerbated by a lack of communication. It can be intimidating, but talking to your boss could bring the quickest resolution. Begin with, “I’ve been tasked with completing this project, and I feel like you don’t trust me to do it.” If they confirm, or continue their micromanaging behaviour, tell them, “this is the job I’ve been hired to do, and I deserve the chance to do it–my way–without interference. Once it’s completed, we can align and talk over any issues you might have with my performance, and of course I’ll carry that information forward into my next assignment.”

Mirror your boss’s behaviour
Pay attention to your supervisor’s patterns and style of communication when they’re delivering criticism of your work. You should be looking for opportunities to earnestly, positively copy those patterns to communicate your progress back to them in the same way. People are reassured by behaviour that is familiar to their own. It’s an intricate psychological game, but they’ll be somewhat comforted by behaviour that’s similar to their own. They’ll start to view your output like what they’d expect from themselves.

Prefer the risk of having to ask for forgiveness instead of asking for permission.
Internalising the criticism of an overbearing boss is a common side-effect of micromanagement. It’s normal to begin doubting your own ability to perform even minor duties when every detail is constantly being picked over by a supervisor. Eventually, it might seem easier to request permission before you undertake each successive action of a project. Consider breaking the cycle by taking control of a piece of work, completing it to the best of your abilities before turning it in, and then asking for feedback. Whatever your micromanaging boss has to say about your work, the final product will likely be just fine. Plus, it’s easier to tweak small details than to be interrupted constantly.

I will be delivering a WEBINAR on how to deal with Micromanagement. Click HERE to attend this webinar

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