What would I do if my boss was a micro-manager?

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Today, I am starting a mini-series of items titled, “What would I do if…” Hopefully, a number of pertinent issues will be covered through this series. We will cover topics that I have personally experienced during my approximately 40 years working in a variety of companies and situations. We look at an all-too-common concern today around a “micro-manager” boss. How do you deal with a boss that must be involved in every detail of your worklife?

What are the characteristics of a micro-manager?  I can list several:

  • They want to know much more than necessary about your work, your job, or things you have responsibility to complete
  • They make you feel guilty when you haven’t involved them or informed them for even minor items
  • They have a fear of not being the first to know something
  • They are almost paranoid about appearing to be in control
  • They universally lack self-confidence and feel constantly that their job is in jeopardy if they don’t know everything
  • They have difficulty being strategic, so they default into the details of YOUR job
  • They make a competent person miserable, and, finally,
  • They can’t stop micro-managing!

I’m sure most of us could think of a few other characteristics of micro-managers. But, I think the key point above is that if you think your micro-manager boss might change or loosen up as they become more comfortable with you, forget it! Being a micro-manager is part of their DNA. Once a micro-manager, always a micro-manager. So, the conversation must shift to, “How can I manage my micro-manager?”

In my years, I have had several micro-managers. Before I learned that I could not change them, I struggled and worked diligently to please them… to no avail. So, let me provide my best advice:

  1. Be realistic about your own abilities/performance – Let’s be honest, some people must be micro-managed simply because they are incapable of doing their basic job adequately. As a manager of people myself, there are times when you must exert more oversight for one person than another just to get the work done. So, before you feel that your micro-manager boss is completely out-of-line in how they treat you, conduct an honest self-assessment of your own abilities and performance to determine if you MUST be micro-managed to get the job done. If this is the case, pick yourself up by the boot straps and begin doing the work you need to do at the level required. However, because true self-assessments are difficult to do, almost every person with a micro-manager believes it is not their fault. Ask someone you trust if they believe the problem could be with your own performance.
  2. Over-communicate – Probably, the best and most effective approach I ever used to deal with a micro-manager boss was to intentionally over-communicate. By this, I don’t mean to call or ask my boss for every decision. That just enhances the problem. By over-communicating, I mean to provide a weekly summary of all key activities that I have been involved in and provide that summary unsolicited to my boss. I included all the details my boss might typically request plus other activities. This weekly communication would often disarm my boss and circumvent the need for him/her to continually monitor my activities and ask about things unnecessarily. In essence, I attempted to proactively provide any piece of information he/she might need which tended to allow the boss to spend more time monitoring the work of others. Give it a try!
  3. Remain calm, don’t panic – Do not do anything rash if you find yourself being micro-managed. Stay calm. Don’t overreact or say something that could make matters worse. Carefully put yourself in the boss’s shoes and consider why he/she might be treating you the way they do. Is there a reason? If not, take some time to consider your feelings and approach before striking back or becoming overly frustrated.
  4. Don’t allow your frustration to infect others – By all means, do not allow your own frustration to pour over to other colleagues. Voicing your frustration openly will do more harm than good. It is fine to collaborate with colleagues to determine an approach, but keep the discussion professional and civil.
  5. Don’t allow him/her to create a micro-manager out of you – There is a tendency to allow a micro-manager boss to turn you into a micro-manager. For example, the boss’s overwhelming need to know everything that is occurring might force you into hovering over your own subordinates. Don’t do it! Find a way to have basic information at hand, but be extremely careful about becoming a micro-manager simply to feed your own.
  6. Remain confident in your own abilities – Don’t let a micro-manager rob you of your own self-confidence. You are the best at what you do, so don’t forget that.
  7. Don’t compromise how you treat others to satisfy your boss – Despite everything else, don’t allow a micro-manager to influence you to treat others poorly. There is never an excuse to treat others unkindly. So, draw that line in the sand and don’t cross it.
  8. Be reasonable about when you need to force a change – There could be a time when your only solution in dealing with a micro-manager boss is to make a change. Don’t do that rashly, but in a considered, rational manner. Think about all alternatives and, ultimately, you need to be able to ask the question, “Will I be better off a year from now staying in this situation or making a change?” That question will often lead you to the right answer.

I truly hope that no one reading this is burdened with a micro-manager boss. But, if you do, I hope this helps. Have a wonderful day and keep thriving!

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