Most experienced professionals have at least one horror story about working for a micromanager boss, the type of boss who wants to be involved in every tiny detail of your work. To help employees grappling with this unpleasant situation, I compiled this list of strategies to manage or escape a micromanager boss:
Coach, trainer, and speaker Lorna Weston-Smyth notes that leadership expert John C. Maxwell identifies three major reasons managers fail to empower direct reports: (1) Weak leaders worry that they won’t be as valuable if direct reports are too competent on their own, (2) Some bosses fear change and loss of control as direct reports take ownership over greater amounts of work, and (3) Managers who feel powerless themselves aren’t skilled at empowering others.
Also, a micromanaging style might stem from something so simple as fear of being blamed if something goes wrong, so bosses think they are doing a good job if they oversee every little detail. They fail to factor in the costs of time and employee demoralization when calculating how effective micromanagement is.
It might not solve the problem to empathize with the fearful micromanager but it might help you to take the micromanagement situation less personally.
Be an anthropologist.
Dr. Donna Hartney, a performance consultant, suggests that you use your observational skills to determine if your boss micromanages all the time, with everyone, or only in specific situations.
If you have co-workers who are not being micromanaged, try to determine what they are doing differently than what you are doing. Based on your observations, create a plan to become one of the people who are trusted rather than micromanaged.
Build the relationship with your boss.
Weston-Smyth advises investing some effort to understand what makes your boss tick. Pay attention to small clues found in informal conversations. Notice what improves your boss’ mood, what upsets/infuriates your boss, and what your boss’ priorities and values seem to be. Find shared interests and common ground. The better your relationship with your boss, the more likely your boss will back off from scrutinizing your every professional move.
Decide if it is worth it to do things your boss’ way.
Career coach Kathi Elster, author of Working for You Isn’t Working for Me: How to Get Ahead When Your Boss Holds You Back suggests helping your boss feel a greater sense of control and less fear by showing your boss that you are listening to him or her and then doing things exactly the way he or she wants things done, no matter how ridiculous it may seem to do so. Using this strategy involves a gamble that if you help your boss become less anxious, things will improve over time.
Jen Hancock, a writer and speaker specializes in humanistic leadership agrees. She says, “Touch base with your manager on where things stand daily or twice daily if necessary. Should you have to do this? No. But you will be doing them and your fellow co-workers a favor by reducing your boss’ stress.”
Micromanage the micromanager.
Gordon Veniard, a management consultant and author of Exactly What Kind of Boss Are You? suggests asking these five detailed questions:
1. What, specifically, do you want me to do?
2. When, exactly, do you need this by?
3. How, specifically, do you want this delivered to you?
4. How do you want me to keep you up-to-date on progress?
5. What else do I need to know to do this right?
Avoid surprising your boss.
Probably the worst thing you can do to a micromanager boss is surprise him or her. If you realize you are going to miss a deadline or you need to deliver any other bad news about something happening at work, do everything you can to be the person to share the information with your boss before the news is conveyed via other channels.
Realize that surprises may feel like a catastrophe to your boss who craves certainty and predictability, so your boss’ micromanaging tendencies might become worse after any surprise.
Mark Rushworth, Head of Search at Blue Logic recommends productivity tools like IDoneThis.com, RememberTheMilk.com, and Gantt style charts in Google Docs to facilitate communication and reassure anxious bosses that you really are getting a lot done.
Rushworth’s tips are even more helpful for virtual teams where you can’t just stop by someone’s desk to see how much work is getting accomplished.
Rick Maurer, author of Why Don’t You Want What I Want?: How to Win Support for Your Ideas without Hard Sell, Manipulation, or Power Plays says if none of the usual career advice works, you can either learn to live with the micromanager boss or change jobs to find a boss who is more reasonable.
Carlyn Craig, a publishing professional, agrees. She recalls that when she worked for a micromanager boss, no matter how many strategies she employed, like frequent reporting, lots of communication, etc., her boss never learned to trust her, despite her strong track record of success in previous jobs. She recalls, “This particular boss had a habit of busting into my office and without any greeting, would start in on a game of ‘twenty questions,’ which generally felt like a test designed to catch me out. It was disruptive and upsetting.”
Carlyn Craig left the job to start her own company, Post Hypnotic Press. Craig says that the employees in her old workplace tell her the micromanager boss is still stressing people out so much, they feel their blood pressure rising when they just hear him coming down the hall.
Laurie Battaglia, career coach, concurs with the advice that you might have to seek new employment to escape the craziness. She says “If you are feeling under fire all the time, start looking for your next role while you continue to do great work in this one.”
Decide how honest to be.
Marian Thier, executive coach, agrees with all the standard career advice about micromanager bosses and she assists clients to implement the advice to try to improve their on-the-job situations. But once all those strategies have been tried and haven’t worked, she sympathizes with an employee who said to her micromanager boss, “You’re watching much too closely. I’m a professional and will accomplish the task on time and done correctly. Surely you must have something better to do with your time than watch over my shoulder.”
Clients have told me they were tempted to say even harsher things to their micromanager bosses. I recommend that clients take the long-term view. If you don’t burn bridges, it is easier to secure a positive reference than if you slam your boss on the way out, although I certainly understand why employees sometimes snap and tell the truth.
Keep the faith.
So many people have survived and thrived after suffering through an experience with a micromanager boss, the odds are that you will be fine, too. Do your best to improve your current job situation but if you end up needing to move on, stay optimistic that you can find a better boss. One of my favorite quotes is, “Living well is the best revenge.”