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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

October 26, 2017

How to Deal with a Micromanager…and Come Out Way Ahead.


Julie Q. Brush

Being micromanaged…day in and day out…can be frustrating, infuriating and ultimately demoralizing. If too much time passes without a strategy to succeed in such a dynamic, your attitude/behavior will deteriorate – and compromise your professional reputation as well as your future career success. And tenure with your current employer will be short-lived. So what can you do to deal with this situation?

Creating an effective strategy to manage your situation requires a two-step process: (1) Understanding what drives a micromanager to manage/behave in such a way; and (2) Managing your own behavior to address these drivers and create a happier working relationship with your boss.

Let’s gain some understanding of the Micromanager:

What’s Driving Your Boss To Micromanage?

There are a few primary drivers that are potentially at the root of your boss’s management style. So understanding what they might be will be a key to your ability to successfully manage your situation:

First, every professional must realize that new employees require some level of “micromanagement” at the beginning of their employment. Why? In order to get started on the right foot, a new employee needs guidance and someone to facilitate their acclimation by helping them: learn they lay of the land, understand how things are done, what works…what doesn’t, internal and external expectations, how things work politically…and so on. In addition, work product and process are often assessed in the beginning of a new job to make sure the new employee is on the right track. Once confidence is gained, an employee becomes more empowered – and the way s/he is managed contains less “micro” in it. Depending on how long you’ve been in your role, this driver could be at play – and it will be a matter of time before things get better.

Second, a common emotion that drives micromanagers is…Fear. Fear of what? Fear – you won’t produce quality work. Fear – you will say or do the wrong thing and compromise something. Fear – you will develop bad habits. Fear – they will feel disconnected. Fear – they will be undermined. Fear – that if they don’t follow you closely, they will lose control. And if they lose control, you could fail. And if you fail, those “failures” will reflect negatively on them.

Third, some competent, successful people are very particular about their standards for high quality and what it takes to achieve it. And part of their m.o. involves focused training so that their people learn “the right way” of doing things. Their tolerance is low for anything less so they stay involved to ensure things are being done correctly. These professionals won’t take their foot off the micromanagement gas pedal until they are certain you are ready to fly on your own. And that takes time. What drives these micromanagers is a value system of excellence, control to ensure their people adopt and practice it and to a certain level, fear – that if things aren’t done correctly, it will reflect poorly on them and compromise their own careers.

Fourth, some managers who are new to managing encounter challenges transitioning from individual contributor (where s/he has taken on a great deal of blocking and tackling work in his/her prior role) a management position. They find it difficult leaving that mode of doing everything themselves. So letting go proves more difficult than expected and a micromanagement style sets in. These managers are often driven by habit and a lack of experience relying on others to “own” other projects and responsibilities. Fear is also plays a part. So if your new boss is fairly new to managing, there’s a good chance this driver is applicable.

The 8 Step Solution.

Knowing what drives your boss to micromanage is the first important step in your quest to manage your situation. And as noted above, the most common drivers include: the need to acclimate a new hire, drive for high standards of quality, a manager’s difficult transition from individual contributor to manager; and fear. You may or may not be able to determine which of these drivers applies to your boss, so your strategy should be comprehensive. Below is my recommended path:

1. Trust is Not Given. It’s Earned.

Trust is a key ingredient to a successful professional relationship. And in any new relationship, it must be earned. So before you overheat…Ask yourself, what am I doing to earn my boss’s trust? Am I giving it my all at work? Do I have a positive, can-do attitude? Is my work product great? Am I helping others? Every relationship has two participants. And it’s your responsibility to examine your role in your current situation. You may conclude you’re doing your part – or there are areas to improve. Either way, being self-aware is required for your strategy going forward.

2. Be One Step Ahead.

Without prompting, take the initiative and provide your boss with updates on what you have on your plate, the status of each project and any other details you believe s/he would want to know. And make the updates reoccurring – once a week, twice a month etc. It doesn’t have to be a white paper – a simple and succinct email will do. Micromanagers want to be in the know when it comes to what you are doing and how you are doing it. And if you can head their questions and requests off at the pass, they will loosen their grip more quickly.

3. Over share.

Information is a must-have for micromanagers. The more…the better. So intelligence gaps can cause anxiety, which will exacerbate micro behavior. The best way to minimize this scenario is to over share: What you’re working on, how you’re thinking about things, how you’re solving problems, and general observations. Over sharing will increase your boss’s comfort level and sense of control. And will put you on a quicker path to the belief that you’ve got things covered.

4. Go Above and Beyond.

Do that little “extra” on your projects…beyond what is asked for. Offer to help others succeed and raise your hand when assistance is needed. Expectations in the workplace are at an all-time low. So go the extra mile and your boss’s confidence in you will soar.

5. Be Responsive and Reliable.

Respond to calls and emails promptly, prioritize his/her requests and projects – and do what you say you’ll do. Being responsive and reliable is a core value for micromanagers. If you can’t clear these hurdles, you’re history.

6. Ask: “Am I On the Right Track?”

Periodically asking whether you’re on the right track with a project, communication, approach etc. lets your boss know that you care about doing a great job-and you value his/her guidance. Two biggies for a micromanager. It also demonstrates that you are taking responsibility for your career. Biggie number three.

7. Communicate Effectively.

Of course, it’s must for every successful relationship. But use good judgment regarding what to say…and how and when to say it.

8. Be Patient.

Don’t expect miracles in 30 days. Micromanagers need time before they start letting go. But if you are following through on the suggestions above, you will see improvement slowly…but surely. So manage your expectations accordingly and be patient.

A micromanaging boss can be challenging, but you as a managee are not helpless. Learning what drives these professionals and executing a strategy to build trust and confidence can ease your dilemma and will put you on a path from nuts…to nirvana in no time.

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