5 Ways to End Micromanager Behavior

Date: October 17, 2013

Simple strategies for surviving a micromanager.

Recognize this one? The manager who hovers over shoulders, second-guesses decisions, has to be personally involved in every action? It should look familiar: 79 percent of workers say they have been micromanaged.

That kind of behavior takes its toll, according to My Way or the Highway: The Micromanagement Survival Guide by Harry Chambers. Of those who’ve been micromanaged, 71 percent say it interfered with their job performance, and 85 percent say morale has suffered as a consequence.

With worker morale already sagging these days, it doesn’t make sense to let managers exercise their nitpicking impulses when such characteristics can be remedied. Here’s how to deal with a micromanger boss:

1. The straightforward approach.

"Address the micro management issue directly," advises Carole Stovall, CEO of Washington, D.C., leadership consultancy SLS Global. A frank conversation often will reveal a manager in need of added training. "Perhaps they have never managed others before, or are unsure as to what being the 'boss' really means. They may need information, coaching, or a class to learn how to manage people directly."

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2. Hold up a mirror.

"The most difficult task is to help a micromanager see and 'own' the negative impact of the behavior on staff morale and on business results," says Leigh Steere, co-founder of Managing People Better in Boulder, Colorado. One way to generate that reflection is to solicit feedback from those under the thumb. Steere confronts managers with the written input of direct reports, in an effort to help the manager recognize the problem behaviors. "Sometimes, employee feedback is a sufficient wake-up call to jolt the manager into taking corrective action."

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3. Pile it on.

At Jetmore Insurance Group in Lusby, Maryland, Ronny Jetmore recalls one manager who couldn't stop writing letters and calling clients, pursuing details until every job was "done," when it would have been enough simply to email and wait for a reply. There was no stepping back, no letting it rest awhile to work on other things. The solution? "I simply gave them more of my work that I was not getting finished, because I have a lot more to do," Lusby says. Piling the plate high with more meaningful tasks helped the manager to stop obsessing over the few details that were holding up the works.

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4. Offer reassurance.

"Someone who needs to control their environment, along with everyone in it, is someone who's motivated by fear. Even though they might give the opposite impression, micromanagers tend to be just plain scared most of the time," says Tina Gilbertson, author of the forthcoming book Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them (Viva Editions, 2014). Your job: Find out what is keeping them up at night, and offer reassurance. Express your confidence, remember to acknowledge a job well done. A manager who feels a sense of security is less likely to hover frantically.

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5. Let them fail.

No one is perfect, yet for many micromanagers it is the drive for perfection – or the abhorrence of failure – that drives the need to control every detail. Sometimes it starts at the top. In some businesses, the prevailing mindset is that mistakes will not be tolerated, says John Bieber of leadership consulting firm Bieber Enterprises in North Port, Florida. Rather than zero-tolerance, business owners need to ensure "that an environment is in place that allows teams to learn from their mistakes," he says. A manager who is free to fail and try again is far less likely to grind down subordinates with a desperate desire to make everything flawless.

RELATED: Embracing Failure: Learning Through Experimentation

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Are You a Micromanager?


If You...

  • Cannot delegate effectively or delegate at all
  • Hand out only the easy, boring or dirty tasks
  • Let the employee decide nothing of significance without prior approval
  • Hover instead of providing proper preparation
  • Pull back tasks at the first sign of trouble

...You may be a micromanager

Learn More »

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