How to Manage a Micromanager

About five years into my career, I found myself working for a micromanager. He drove me crazy. He wanted to know everything I did and when I did it.

He required me to furnish daily status reports. I had to document every call, every conversation, and every action I took on every project. It was oppressive.

I tried to be patient. But at that point in my career, I didn’t have the skills necessary to deal with his leadership style. I eventually found another job and quit. Unfortunately, I cheated myself out of an important leadership lesson.

Some micromanagers can’t be rehabilitated, of course—at least not by you. But others can if you know what to do.

Later in my career I worked for another micromanager. He wasn’t as bad as the first, but he was still overbearing. Thankfully, by this time, I had picked up a few more skills. I ended up having a very positive relationship with him. We worked together for several years.

If you find yourself working for a micromanager, here are three steps you can take to get him or her off your back. These actions won’t work in every instance, but you owe it to yourself to give them a try before moving on. (To make this less cumbersome, I will use the masculine pronoun when referring to your boss.)

  1. Tell him what you plan to do. If you tell your boss what you plan to do, then he has the opportunity for input before you have invested a lot of time and energy.

    As much as possible, keep this part of your conversation focused on results rather than activity. One way to do this is to focus your work around 90-day objectives.

    If your boss insists on knowing how you plan to tackle the job, you can also provide your basic approach or strategy. If you get a sign-off at this point, then you can proceed without constantly looking over your shoulder.

  2. Do what you said you would do. Planning is one thing. Execution is another. Bosses tend to micromanage when they lose confidence in you.

    If you want your boss out of your hair, it’s easy. Just perform. Do what you said you would do—on time and on budget.

    This is where things can get off track. If you don’t execute, trust is broken. If trust is broken, you’re going to get more supervision than you want.

    The only way to fix it is to make more “deposits” in “the execution bank.” You must make follow-through—especially when it comes to your boss—your top priority.

  3. If anything changes, be the first one to tell him. Reality is that “do-do occurs.” Things are not going to go according to plan.

    Sometimes, for reasons you can’t control, you are going to be late or miss your budget. It’s inevitable. Your only salvation is to beat a path to your boss’s office and tell him first.

    In my experience, I have never been chewed out for bringing bad news to my boss—provided he heard it from me first. That’s the key.

    Bad news does not get better with age. (If you have a tendency to avoid conflict, re-read that sentence again.) Someone has to tell the boss what happened, and it should be you.

    If your boss is any good at all, he will respect you for having the guts to come to him directly and immediately. In this sense, bad news can actually build trust rather than destroy it.

Getting your boss off your back and keeping him off usually boils down to one word: proactivity. Take the initiative. Don’t make him come to you.

Question: Have you ever worked for a micromanager? How did you handle it? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://intentionaltoday.com/ Ngina Otiende

     Totally love this statement  “Bad news does not get better with age”. (copied and tweeted with attribution :)

    I think I have micromanaged at some point – though not to crazy extremes :).

    I agree with you – when someone performs, the boss doesn’t need to be involved on a micro-level.

    Awesome post, as always

  • http://theoldadam.com/ Steve Martin

    I’d fine some ultra menial task and have another micro-manager lord it (for a couple of days) over the micr-manager that I was trying to break.

    And then ask him/her how they liked it.

  • Anonymous

    This is a great discussion. I’ve worked for a micro-manager for 6 years. The first 3 years I spent too much time taking it personally and trying to figure out what was wrong with me and trying to be perfect for someone who is impossible to please. During the 4th year I started keeping notes and records of situations and talking to my husband about it for a different perspective. This helped me to see that although I wasn’t “perfect” as much as I tried, there were times when it really wasn’t my fault and that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I wasn’t a “bad” employee. This was my transition year. Once I finally realized that I wasn’t the problem and I couldn’t fix the problem my boss had, I began to see how her relationship was affecting everyone else in the office. It wasn’t just me. I wasn’t the only victim. The last 2 years I have prayed long and hard for God to remove me or open doors elsewhere. I’ve updated my resume several times and applied to many places. God had a different plan. He brought in a new employee who “saw” what was happening and approached me about sliding under her supervision. She wanted to know how I felt about it before she approached my boss. To some people this may have looked like a step down, but I didn’t lose any salary nor did my job change–only the person I report to. I jumped at it. My boss called me in and asked me how I felt about it and I told her I thought it would be a good thing to try. My boss wasn’t willing to do it if I didn’t agree, but I had to be careful and not appear too over-eager about it. I didn’t want to offend my boss, since she was over everyone, including my new supervisor. Since this change, I have been so much happier. My new supervisor has stood up for me several times. As a result, I’ve been working on my attitude about my reaction to things since I still have to work closely with and for my old boss. My new supervisor is guiding me and training me to be better at work relationships and how to “manage” my old boss. As Michael said, I couldn’t change my old boss, but I could change me, and other co-workers have made comments about how much more positive I’ve been. I think this was God’s answer to my prayer. He didn’t answer it in how I was praying He would, but He did answer. He knows best. He knew that I really like my job and what I do and the benefits I have. God had more skills He wanted me to develop. Now I have no doubt that when my training is up under my new supervisor, God will open doors in His timing.

  • Jess Fernandez

    I don’t want to believe that I’m a micromanager but most situations in our office “compel” me to be one.  My staff depend on the instructions (things to do list) I give them monthly or else they don’t achieve something “significant”. I have been trying to  build their confidence by helping  them recognize their potentials but still they have not fully developed the initiative to go beyond their daily work routine. I would appreciate any tips to address this concern.  Thanks.

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  • http://dustinstout.com Dustin W. Stout

    I have worked for a micromanager– it didn’t last long. As a creative person, in a role that demands high levels of creativity, I was being micromanaged into being less creative than my supervisor. 

    How do you handle being micromanaged by someone who thinks they have your skill set, when they couldn’t be further from it?

  • http://www.michaelgholmes.com/ Mike Holmes

    I am about to send this to 3 friends being micromanaged and one friend who is a micromanager lol!

  • http://somewiseguy.com/ ThatGuyKC

    I’ve worked for micromanagers before and usually I just suffered through it until the next job came around. However, your advice is dead on. Communicating a plan, performing against it and keep him/her updated w/ any changes makes a huge difference.

    Being proactive and learning to anticipate what they want/need is big benefit.

  • http://twitter.com/Zac_Freeman Zac Freeman

    Proactivity and effective communication. The micromanager thinks that he or she is capable at doing the task, so the employee of that micromanager needs to constantly empathize with the micromanager in order to effectively communicate with them. 

    Talking with results in mind is key, because that is often what drives the micromanaging behavior. Proactive communication makes for reduced stress in the mind of the micromanager.

    We made a video caricature of a micromanaging boss in our “Leaderskilz” series on how NOT to lead.  Great example… .

  • http://twitter.com/Zac_Freeman Zac Freeman

    Proactivity and effective communication. The micromanager thinks that he or she is capable of the work they should be delegating, so the employee of that micromanager needs to constantly empathize with the micromanager in order to effectively communicate with them. 
    Talking with results in mind is key, because lack of confidence is often what drives the micromanaging behavior. Proactive communication will make for reduced stress in the mind of the micromanager.
    We made a video caricature of a micromanaging boss in our “Leaderskilz” series on how NOT to lead. Leaderskilz – Micromanager  .

  • http://www.livebeyondawesome.com/ Jen McDonough

    Michael, spot on! I learned this the hard way, but appreciated the experience as I became a more awesome communicator. It helped to realize that I was a high I and my CEO was a high C on the DISC profile. He found my abrupt way of nipping problems in the bud as offensive and I found his need to know EVERY detail as a sign of mistrust and frankly a waste of time. Over time, I learned that he wasn’t trying to drive me nuts, he was just wired this way . He too learned not to hold things in and stew about something as I wasn’t going to remember small details that had no difference on the end result.

    I have to admit, I did get a chuckle out of this as it was not only a great blog post, but brought some funny stories to mind as I thought back on it.
    Live Beyond Awesome
    Jen
    Twitter: @TheJenMcDonough:disqus 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jen. DiSC is a great tool for teams as they seek to understand one another. Thanks for your comment.

  • Editor MBA

    Michael,

    I had a micromanaging boss a number of years ago. I used these techniques and turned an adversarial relationship into a friendly one; he still got on my nerves, but I didn’t let it get to me. I anticipated what he would ask (and ask, and ask), and often beat him to the punch. We worked well together as a result. We remain friends to this day despite the fact I was laid off from that job.

    I currently have a boss who is much more involved in micromanaging, and these techniques have not worked so far. I still believe your tips are right-on, however, and would recommend them to anyone dealing with a micromanaging boss.

  • TheMicroManager

    What happens when you are a micro manager due to the team dynamics. Believe me, I don’t wake up every morning thinking “How am I going to micro manage our team today?” If anything it gives me more work because not only I have to keep my own “TODO” list but also those that work under/with me. Specially those that do not care much about deadlines but we (team leads) are still responsible to meet those target dates. 

    In the scene on the video, if the employee had put the cover that was requested this scene would have never happen, instead of laughing about how bad the micro manager is, looking at the scene from the other angle I would say that weather the manager wanted or not now he had to go and remind the employee about his reports. Yeah, they are not due until the next day but I doubt he had put the cover if he had not micro managed. 

    I don’t think they are micro managers, i think they are bad workers that need to be reminded constantly of what they have to do and are those who didn’t learn since they were kids that they need to do things right away when they are told to do something rather than the parent having to tell them over and over and over. So, how do they justify this behavior? They complain about the mangers and call them “Micro-managers”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      If you have these kind of people in your organization, what does it say about your leadership? Forgive me if this sounds harsh. A certain amount of monitoring and follow-up is appropriate. But if you have to micro-manage people to this level, then either your skills in hiring or training need to be improved.
      I would use this as an opportunity to grow your own leadership. Being a micro-manager is stressful for you and miserable for your people. I have never seen a micro-manager succeed over the long haul. It just doesn’t scale. Thanks.

      • TheMicroManager

        Great Point Michael, I agree with you that everything starts from the top down and I don’t mind you being harsh at all. I believe that if we want to learn, move forward, and grow we need to be able to take praise as well as criticism and I welcome it.

        Saying that, you are correct. I (and as others) have long noticed that some people are being hired or promoted to fill out the empty spots rather than fulfill a position which in the end hurts part of the company. I say part of the company because as you know once something has been promised to a client it has to be fulfilled even if some people have to carry the extra weight needed to fulfill such requirement and this is where team leads become micro managers. 

        Are you doing a follow up post to help us micromanagers grow on leadership? I for once wanted to grow on that aspect but as you pointed out it becomes stressful and you get tired of it. Like I said earlier, I do not wake up every morning thinking of who I have to remind about their “TPS Reports” that day and at the same time I can’t let our company and department fail for a few employees that are not willing to step up to the plate and grow.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

          Thanks for you teachability. With regard to following up with additional posts … pretty much my entire blog is about leadership. There are some posts in the archive about hiring. That’s where I would start. Just search for them in the search box. Thanks.

  • Sandyl

    Yes, I have worked for micromanagers and an observation that I have made` is that many times they seem to be motivated by fear.  How we perform affects their bottom line.  Thank you for this insightful post, I was instinctively doing part of it, but you’ve challenged me to work on some areas!  Thanks!

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  • Jenniffer

    Hello am Jeniffer  from UK i wanna thank Dr Paloma for what he has done for me at first i taught he was scam but until i just decided to follow my mind.i told him that my ex lover which i loved with all my heart left me for another all Dr Paloma did was to laugh and said he will be back to me in 3days time i taught he was lying on the 3rd day my ex called me and said he wanna see me,i was shocked then he came over to my place and started begging that he was bewitched,immediately i forgives him and now we are back and he his really madly in love with me.All thanks to Dr Paloma he indeed wonderful incise you wanna contact him here his is private mail palomaspelltemple@yahoo.com   

  • Loknar27

    If you are managing a professional, salaried employee communicate your expectations and provide the deadline. After you have accomplished that it is more productive to simply get out of the way. Micromanagement rarely ends well for either party.

  • Mc Lain3y

    Working for a micro manager drives me absolutely insane. I can’t figure out how people get to these positions if they don’t know how to manage people. Having said that, I tried to push back and got fired. With my previous boss, I was a superstar and that is a reflection of her ability to manage people.

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  • Alejandro Jose David

    I really like the last part of this article. I work as an assistant manager of a fast food chain and my store manager is exactly like that. I’m still fairly new having only three months into my job and my manager thinks I was hiding the fact that one day I was late in turning on the fryers. Granted only one customer couldn’t get fries, but I promptly took care of the situation and just continued my day, not letting it hold me back and never repeated the mistake. However, in his eyes, he thinks because I never told him that it happened that I was intentionally trying to keep it from him. I personally just felt that it didn’t make enough impact to even bother bringing up. Micromanagers definitely have some serious trust issues and this fact is becoming more and more apparent.