I don’t know of any company out there that goes out and looks for ineffective people and micromanaging leaders to add to their team. How ridiculous would it be to see in a job description “Must be able to micromanage others in order to get tasks completed.” 

So how do we end up with so many micromanagers that can make our work lives miserable? Sometimes it’s company culture, sometimes it’s the bad habits of the leaders, and other times it’s our own behavior that pushed the leader into a micromanagement style. 

Signs of a micromanager 

Micromanagers are typically people who want things done a certain way, but leave out the context, support, and understanding to grow an individual. Some signs of a micromanager include:

  • They generally slow down work, through redundant approvals. How often are their approvals necessary?
  • Having difficulty delegating and letting go of tasks that they previously held.
  • They can tend to be perfectionists. 
  • They need all the information before they feel confident in making a decision. 
  • They may have an underlying fear of missing out on an opportunity.
  • They lead through authority instead of influence.  
  • Tasks big and small receive the same level of scrutiny.
  • Rarely seeks input from others. 

Micromanagers aren’t all evil leaders that want to make your work life miserable. They sometimes put a high value on structure to avoid chaos and unknowns. Other micromanagers may have good intentions but struggle with self-confidence and have a poor self-image.  This doesn’t make the behavior right, but it does remind us that there is a person behind the tension and conflict that arises from micromanagement. 

Is it you or your boss?

People often assume that the leader is always the problem when it comes to micromanaging. They are the ones that are constantly over your shoulder after all in nearly everything that you do. There are times and situations where the follower is actually the cause for the micromanager. So is it you or your leader?

Is it me?

Self-reflect to understand if your actions, inactions, reputation, or trust levels are driving the micromanagement. Some thought-provoking idea starters include questions like:

  • Are your priorities aligned to the teams and organization goals? This can sometimes get misaligned especially for those that are creative and innovative. It’s not always micromanagement when your leader needs to stay close to keep you focused on the rights tasks.
  • How have you been on deadlines? Have you missed several lately or are you the last one to complete your part of a project?
  • What is your trust and respect level with your leader?
  • What is your cadence of communication with your leader? Are you keeping them aware of project and task status? It’s likely that your leader needs to make others (including their boss) aware of the status of the important things that you are working on. 

While the leader ultimately decides how to lead, your actions may be contributing to the behavior or even pulling them to a micromanagement style that they don’t enjoy.

Is it them?

There are times when you are doing all the right things, yet you are still being micromanaged. This may be because of the leader themselves. Ask yourself these questions to help understand if the micromanagement is leader-driven.  

  • Are they laser-focused on things getting done a certain way? Exclude safety and compliance when considering this behavior. When it comes to safety and compliance regulations, there is often very little wiggle room to take things from a different approach. 
  • Are they new in the role? Leaders can often struggle a bit as they cross the juncture to a higher level of leadership. They need to adapt their priorities and let go of certain responsibilities that they previously held. 
  • Are they stressed out all the time at work? They may be feeling real or imagined pressure to hit a quota or deadline.
  • Do they have a fear of failure? Perhaps they have an extensive, “do not do” list when it comes to how you do your work. 
  • Are they a perfectionist that will jump in and take over a project or task? This can check several boxes for the leader including a self-esteem boost, and validation of their own work.
  • Do they have trouble trusting others, especially when their reputation is on the line?

Try your best to look at both sides neutrally to avoid having a confirmation bias towards the person and situation. Your mind can easily decide on the reasoning behind the micromanagement and then begin looking at small things that confirm that line of thought, even when it’s not reality. 

Does your company enable micromanagement?

Micromanagers aren’t born into the world. They are created through their personal experiences and are enabled by those around them. The culture of the organization can unknowingly feed and grow micromanagers among teams.

  • A leader may begin having micromanaging tendencies if they hear their leader share about poor employees or discuss others in a negative light. 
  • Senior leaders may not trust their frontline employees. This distrust can cascade down the leadership ladder and impact how they lead. 
  • The Sr leader may not be in touch with what is going on further down in the team and is missing the opportunity to coach the leader out of the poor leadership style.

Understand the signs of a micromanager and then step back and take an unbiased approach to understand where the behavior is coming from. Appreciate the part that you play in the relationship dynamic. Next week, we’ll cover how to handle a micromanaging boss. 

Make a better tomorrow.