This is How a Smart Boss Stops Being a Micromanager

“I perform better under a strict micromanager!” Quote from no employee, ever.


When you hear the word, “micromanager”, what is the image that immediately springs to mind? For most people, it’s the figure of a forlorn employee sitting at his or her desk as an overbearing supervisor behind them leans over the employee’s shoulder watching them work intently. A favorite cartoon panel of mine by Dave Coverly of depicts this image as the micromanager blatantly ignores the concept of personal space and says into his subordinate’s ear, “There’s no hyphen in ‘micromanager’!” 

The truth is most micromanagers are not domineering freaks. They’re well-meaning and smart people. Just ones with control issues …and sometimes impossibly high standards. Their excuse for their behavior is that they want things done right the first time. But, the fact that they point out to you that your lunch break is only 30 minutes long when you’ve just been gone 33 minutes goes way beyond “wanting things done right”.

At some point in our working lives, most of us have had the experience of working with a micromanager. The boss that is never quite happy with the work you’re doing … questioning EVERY decision you make … and never really giving you authority despite telling you that this is “your project”.

So my question to you is … now that you’re the boss, are you micromanaging your people?

We tell ourselves it’s our high standards that cause us to stay close to every project. But studies show that the #1 reason people leave their job is dissatisfaction with the boss. And one of the top reasons people were dissatisfied? Because the boss was a micromanager.

Most micromanagers don’t realize they’re micromanaging

Remember how it felt to be micromanaged. You spend hours working on something only to have it dismissed or disregarded, making you feel like you’re wasting your time. It can cause you to doubt yourself or feel paranoid. It can make you frustrated or angry. And over time, you may decide to look for a new job … one where they appreciate and trust you to make a few decisions. You don’t want to be the cause of these negative reactions in your team.

Assess your tendency to be a micromanager by honestly reviewing these signs:

  • You think that you’re smarter, faster and more skilled. This can frustrate you because you think only your way is the right way.
  • You’re always swamped. This is probably because the thought of delegating tasks keeps you up at night, sweating profusely. Therefore, you’re keeping the important tasks for yourself. The problem is that to you, they’re all important.
  • When you do give an assignment, you tell the person how to do the work, rather than just stating the end goal and what a successful finish will look like
  • You don’t simply walk around to see how things are going. Instead, you hover, needing to know what each of your employees is working on
  • You want to be cc’d on emails about the project. All emails instead of just the critical ones that you should be cc’d on.
  • You are never truly away from the office because you’re constantly “checking in” … even when you’re supposed to be with your family on vacation at the Grand Canyon.
  • You ask for needless updates and reports as the project progresses and at the first sign of trouble, you yank the job back
  • You’re never quite satisfied with the work.  The Harvard Business Review points out that this makes people avoid meeting with you, your red pen and exacting standards.
  • Your workers appear timid, tentative and paralyzed when performing even the most mundane task. They fear your irritation or because they’ve made a decision without consulting you first.
  • When an employee makes a mistake, you fix it for him or her. By doing this, you make your employee feel inadequate, paranoid and the equivalent of six-years old. You also keep them from learning and improving.
  • Employees tell you you’re a micromanager
  • Your team is experiencing high turnover

So, how many did you check off? Ok, how many did you honestly check off? That’s what I thought. Remember, being a micromanager doesn’t make you a bad person, but it does make you a bad leader. Luckily, it’s a behavior that you can turn around if you work at it.

Six ways to let go of your need to micromanage:

  1. Understand why you’re micromanaging

    Are you afraid mistakes will make you look bad? You tell yourself “too much is at stake to allow this to go wrong.” By taking a closer look at when you’re tempted to jump in to save the day, you’ll understand which projects, people or situations are making you anxious.

  2. Focus on letting go of the details

    Be clear on where you need to be involved. Let the rest go. Consider which projects your involvement really adds value to. What could you do with another hour of time each day at work unencumbered by smaller projects or things that can be done just as well by others? Yes … I thought that would make you smile.

  3. Talk to your team, so they understand your new priorities

    Now that you’ve carefully considered which things make you most anxious, let them know when you want to be involved and how. Clear the way for them by giving them greater access to resources and more authority to make decisions where possible.

  4. Set clear expectations on what you need done

    What will the final outcome look like when it’s successful? Don’t dictate the “how.” If you need help with delegating, check out this article. Let your employees know you trust them to rise to a challenge.

  5. Understand your employees’ capabilities and hire the right people

    The most successful leaders hire the right people and then let them do their jobs. Will mistakes be made now and then? Of course they will, you’re hiring human beings (hopefully). Mistakes are opportunities if you’re hiring good people. If mistakes are catastrophic, you need to look at who you have under you.

  6. However, there are times when a tiny bit of micromanaging is needed

    For example, a new employee might need more input from you. A new project where there’s a lot at stake might also need closer scrutiny. Explain this to those employees so they know your micromanaging is temporary. Remember that delegating does NOT mean abdicating. You’re the boss and the buck stops with you, so you do need to do your job as well.

There’s a vast difference between being a great boss and being a micromanager. Your goal is high productivity and high morale. Take a moment to really assess your management style. Consider what’s causing you to micromanage and take steps to let go, to delegate well and to trust your employees and help them trust themselves.



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