What Is Micromanagement?
In the workplace, the specific way a manager conducts themselves and handles their team is known as their management or leadership style.
This can include the way they plan and organize, assert their authority, give feedback and ensure goals or objectives are achieved.
Some managers insist on being more heavily involved in the workplace than others. While it can be helpful for a team to know that they have the support of their manager, constant supervision and interference can become overbearing.
Managers who feel compelled to control every aspect of their team’s work are known as micromanagers.
Your boss may be showing signs of micromanagement if you notice that they:
- Obsess over the tiny details of a project (especially if they lose sight of the bigger picture)
- Avoid delegating tasks to other members of the team
- Have the mindset that the whole enterprise would fall apart without them
- Discourage initiative or creative thinking in a team; they believe their way of thinking is the only way
- Are very report-orientated, wanting constant updates and detailed data to be presented at unrealistic intervals
- Seem to have no concept of ‘office hours’ and feel that employees should be available to discuss work by phone/email at any time they wish
- Have a tendency to overreact, especially to minor setbacks, or consider everything to be an emergency
- Interfere in employees’ work and are overly critical (often with little substance to what they are actually saying)
- Become extremely frustrated if decisions are made without them or they are not included in conversations or email exchanges
- Have an unwavering belief in a ‘top down’ management approach
Although not typical of an effective leadership style in business, there can be some positive outcomes to being a micromanager.
Micromanagers are usually very results focused and will often strive to achieve positive outcomes for themselves. They are often highly aspirational leaders.
By being so involved with their teams on a day-to-day basis, micromanagers can be very empathetic and able to understand their employees well, identifying their strengths, weaknesses and key skills and utilizing them to attain positive results for the business.
They will often show high levels of engagement in tasks and are willing to make sacrifices to get good results, such as working long hours or continuing to focus on their projects outside of the workplace. Higher management will often favor the dedication of the micromanager to the tasks at hand.
The obsessive attention to detail and constant scrutiny that is typical of the micromanager can cause employees to feel stressed and demotivated. This can result in lower output, increase the frequency of mistakes and cause a loss of morale within the team.
As micromanagers are so reluctant to delegate or allow others to have responsibilities, staff often feel undervalued and disrespected by them. As a consequence, micromanagers often have a high turnover of staff and have specific problems with recruiting and retaining skilled and experienced workers.
The approach of the micromanager does not encourage creativity or critical thinking. Employees are not challenged to solve problems or overcome issues that they are faced with if they are continuously told to follow instructions and not deviate from their manager’s way of doing things. This fails to prepare workers for promotion and causes the enterprise to lose out on hearing innovative ideas.
Micromanagers are often not effective users of time, either through wasting time by insisting on overseeing everybody else’s work or because they have unrealistic expectations. This can mean that work is being rushed and having to be redone later, or submitted before it is complete.
Managers may micromanage their team for a number of reasons. Although it often has a negative impact on the workforce, this approach can sometimes be well intentioned. Micromanagers may feel that their output is highly valuable and that they are helping their team to achieve great results by becoming so heavily involved.
Some micromanagers have a deep-seated fear of failure. They will scrutinize small details and interfere with other colleagues’ work because they are either extremely anxious about attaining the desired results, or under extreme pressure to produce data that quantifies these results.
This can result in them having disproportionate reactions to small ‘failures’, which then causes them to intervene too frequently in their employees’ work.
Learned experience can also play a significant role in micromanagement. Sometimes, a manager who has had an entirely different leadership style may lapse into micromanagement following a failure, an instance where they feel their team ‘let them down’, a demotion or negative feedback about their own performance from higher management.
A narcissistic personality type is sometimes associated with micromanagement. These types of managers will use micromanagement as a way to establish control over their employees and they will often micromanage in a very strategic and deliberate way.
By doing this, they are able to identify potential scapegoats to take the blame if projects do not work out, as well as to claim their colleagues’ success as their own when things do go well. By micromanaging in this way, narcissistic bosses have the perfect setup to avoid accountability.
While micromanagers focus on details and giving their team constant direction, macromanagers allow their employees to work more independently. These two opposing management styles have their positive points, as well as their drawbacks.
While a micromanager might insist on being cc’d in every email, leading each team meeting and overseeing each team member’s outputs during a project, a macromanager would allow them to work with minimal supervision and an abundance of creative freedom, providing they had a cohesive goal in mind.
Micromanagers are focused on identifying (and creating) short-term problems and solutions; macromanagers focus on a long-term objective.
For employees who value autonomy and are confident working independently with very little direct supervision, a boss who exercises a macromanagement style would be ideal. For those workers who perform best under instruction and require regular feedback, or who struggle with decision-making, having this type of manager could leave them feeling overloaded and directionless.
Macromanagers will often focus on strategizing and may choose to delegate influential or decision-making roles to subordinate members of their team who they trust will share their objectives.
Rather than focusing on the intimate details of a project, a macromanager will see the broader view while in the planning phase of their strategies in business. They often concentrate on a conclusion or objective, allowing others to use their initiative and find solutions to the problems that may occur at the different stages of implementing their strategy.
The macromanager’s approach can create distance between themselves and their teams, which in some ways can lead to enhanced objectivity, but can also lead to problems if they are not immediately aware of issues that are occurring. In this instance, a team may struggle to enact a solution to a problem that could have been pre-empted or seen earlier by their manager if they had been more involved on a day-to-day basis.
For a micromanager, in a similar instance, they would have been looking for solutions to problems that did not exist or that their team could easily deal with.
Both the micromanager and macromanager can encounter issues when it comes to problem-solving in business.
The distance and objectivity a macromanager develops can sometimes lead to solutions being delayed.
Conversely, the micromanager becomes too invested in subjective detail and refuses to use the knowledge base within their team, which also leads to solutions being delayed.
If you have a job that you are really passionate about and a team that you enjoy working with, it is a shame to allow it to be made difficult by a micromanaging boss.
Although the problem is rarely about output or results, but more about the boss’s own personality or learned experience, it might be possible to take back some control of the situation by adapting your own behavior.
Take a step back – Sometimes it is hard to see what is going on when you are too close to a project. By taking a step back and encouraging others to, it can be easier to see exactly what is taking place and how to address it.
Set boundaries – Be clear about your expectations and limitations. If you are uncomfortable taking work-related calls out of office hours or feel that deadlines are unrealistic and reports unnecessary, it is vital to speak up. It is also helpful to ask your colleagues to support you if they are feeling the same way.
Be intuitive – Micromanagers often react badly to being overtly told they are micromanaging. Try to communicate with your boss by suggesting that you would like more responsibility or that you feel you really proved yourself on a certain project and would like to take a more autonomous role on the next one.
Look for the cause – Understanding why your boss is micromanaging will help to inform the way in which you decide to proceed. If it is because they are under extreme stress or because they are anxious about a recent failing, a team meeting where this can be discussed openly may help. If it is due to them having a controlling or narcissistic personality this is far more difficult to deal with.
Delegate tasks – Micromanagers are often reluctant to delegate tasks out to others. Delegating tasks gives other employees responsibility and makes them feel included and valued. By giving tasks to others and proving they are being done successfully, you develop a proven track record to challenge your micromanaging boss with when they refuse to delegate.
Try to make pre-emptive strikes – If possible, try to stay a step ahead. You can learn your boss’s pattern of behavior and have items ready before they have a chance to ask for them or start interfering. If they are very data-orientated, you could take the time to produce a report on the progress of a project so they can see that everything is going well. By demonstrating that you are on track for success, they may start to focus their attention elsewhere.
Arrange regular updates – It might help to suggest regular check-in times to meet to discuss your progress. That way, if you are approached in the meantime, you can say confidently, “Let’s discuss that at my next check-in appointment”. The guarantee that they will be receiving regular updates may encourage a micromanaging boss to take a step back. You could also start to introduce the idea of only needing to update on the important milestones of a project, rather than each minor detail.
Take ownership – Employees who are willing to be held accountable for their work (both good and bad) and accept genuine feedback are more difficult to micromanage. As a team, be willing to celebrate your successes and openly discuss and learn from failures.
Be organized – Micromanagement can cause chaos within a team as employees become unsure of what their role actually is, and what precisely they should be doing, as their manager tries to make every job seem like their own. The more organized and structured you are able to be, demonstrating that you work cohesively as a team, the less opportunity the micromanager will have to cause disruption.
Micromanagement occurs for a variety of reasons, but more often than not results in negative consequences for the workforce. Although at the root is the desire for control, micromanaging often provides only the illusion of control and will, in fact, cause workers to feel undervalued and stressed, often leading to disorganization and a lack of direction within a team.
With effective communication and understanding it is possible to stop being micromanaged; this will be significantly easier if your boss is open to appraising and reevaluating their own management style and behavior.