How to Deal with a Micromanaging Boss
Bosses are tough to deal with in general. They represent authority, and they often bring back memories of what we hated most in our relationships with our parents and teachers growing up. The micro-managing boss is especially hard to handle if you are creative, innovative, and want to make a contribution of your own in an organization. But since quite a few people in management positions fit this profile, chances are you will end up with one at some point in your career. Here are some tips to help you get the space you need to thrive:
1. Understand that micromanaging behavior is driven by the positive characteristics of conscientiousness, diligence, and responsibility; it’s just that they have been taken to an extreme. People often confuse themselves with the quality of the work they produce. As long as they can control the quality of their work, they are ok, but as soon as they have to depend on others for results, they are faced with the fear of representing sloppy or substandard output. Since putting out less than excellent work is SO personally humiliating, they need constant reassurance that the team is performing. Keep in mind that behavior such as constant checking on your progress or reviewing your work has NOTHING to do with how well you perform. It is about your boss, who has gotten so caught up in his or her fears and needs for reassurance that he or she is not aware of how this behavior may be impacting you.
2. You can give yourself space by playing to their standards for excellence and needs for reassurance. Initiate a conversation about expectations and standards of work output, and make sure your boss is clear about where your standards are. If you have a difference of opinion, get it talked out and come to an agreement about what standards you are both comfortable with. Then COMMUNICATE. It’s natural to react to micro-management by doing everything possible to avoid communication. But that just plays into the vicious circle of mutual mistrust and escalates the problem. If you develop a habit of sending a short e-mail on a daily or weekly basis that gives your status on a project and how you are handling situations, the boss gets a stream of continuous reassurance, and wont feel a strong need to check in.
3. Once you have developed a certain degree of trust with your boss, you may want to take it to the next step, and that is providing feedback on the impact of the micromanaging behavior. For example, “I notice that you have redone my last three powerpoint presentations. I understand your desire to have us represented in a positive light, but you may not realize that you are sending a subtle message, that I can’t do powerpoint presentations, and that makes me feel less excited about doing them well in the first place. Is there something specific you are noticing about the way I do my presentations that does not meet the standards we agreed on related to our work?”
Unfortunately, the micro-managing boss ends up fulfilling his own fears. As he takes more responsibility for the work of the team, the team feels completely disempowered and loses the motivation to produce their best work. Soon they are complaining and doing very little, and he is fretting about how they don’t care and he has the weight of more than one job on his shoulders. It may take several attempts to help him turn around, because he needs to let go and allow himself to look bad in order to re-empower the team, build trust, and get to the point where he gets results that are better than he ever dreamed.
If you are a micro-manager, or you work for one, anything you can do to facilitate the change will be a positive learning experience. Giving your boss feedback that enables him to become a better leader is a gift he will be forever grateful for. And if you are that boss, imagine getting rid of the experience of being overworked and not being able to trust anyone, and moving to a place where you get to work with people who consistently go well beyond the call of duty, and you are so honored to be their leader that you would never consider taking ownership for the phenomenal work they put forth.