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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