Micromanaging was defined by Gartner as a behavioral pattern exhibited by some managers “which consists of excessive supervision and control over their employees’ work, as well as limited delegation of tasks and decisions to the staff.”
This is a style of management that can create a toxic work environment where fear and mistrust are widespread. It leads to a loss of morale and motivation, eventually leading to a decline in productivity. 🤯
When employees receive practical guidance, they perform better than when they’re left to their own devices. But people have strong, negative, emotional, and even physiological reactions to unnecessary or unwanted help, which can be corrosive to interpersonal relationships, and can be demoralizing and counterproductive.
Employees who are free to work on projects at their own pace, and follow their own work method, are more likely to be motivated and productive. Micromanaging can decrease productivity because it creates anxiety and stress in employees, even leading to burnout.
However, we all know bosses and managers who intervene too much or too frequently in their employees’ work. They may value close supervision rather than the autonomy of employees, not knowing when to back off and watching the employees’ actions up close.
They can be overly critical of people’s work and processes and attempt to control every aspect of their team’s work and how it’s done instead of focusing on results—they are oblivious to the bigger picture.…
Micromanagement can make employees overly dependent on managers because it undermines people’s confidence—they quickly start feeling like they cannot do anything right. This leads to feelings of insecurity, redundancy, failure, or inadequacy, which can turn into frustration and resentment. 😤
Even if micromanagers have nothing but good intentions at heart, they inadvertently sabotage the team’s success because they don’t balance assistance with autonomy.
A leader allows people to learn from their mistakes and develop their skills. A micromanager hinders initiative and can also muffle innovation and kill creativity because people will often be afraid to bring innovative ideas to the table for fear of criticism.
“To encourage creative brilliance, foster an atmosphere where it can thrive and then step out of the way and let it happen.”
What is NOT micromanagement?
Of course, a manager should always hold their employees responsible for their work.
A good manager will make sure there’s no ambiguity when it comes to what people are expected to do, and that everyone is accountable only for their own mistakes.
A leader that offers positive guidance—much like in coaching or mentoring—focuses on defining the parameters and goals to be met, providing support not to feed their own control craving, but for the sake of their employees’ development.
They empower people, allowing them to make decisions and give opinions and suggestions, and help them develop skills to become autonomous and accountable—for the sake of a common goal.
Compared to micromanaging, the true guidance of coaching or mentoring is a much more effective management style because it creates a positive work environment and increased job satisfaction, which we all know lead to improved global performance in the long run.
Is micromanagement a form of OCD?
Many micromanagers are also workaholics or perfectionists or have an obsessive personality, and these traits are often combined with the tendency to micromanage others, which can be a recipe for disaster.
People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) tend to focus too much on certain details, sometimes to the point of losing touch with reality.
A micromanager does really try to control every detail to the point of losing sight of what people are truly capable of doing on their own.
They are so “micro” oriented they become unable to focus on the bigger picture and are under the illusion the boat wouldn’t go forward unless everyone rows their way.
Is micromanagement a form of harassment?
Although managers who micromanage are often well-meaning, the impact of their behavior can be similar to bullying and harassment.
In extreme cases, it can feel like or be interpreted as harassment. Especially if the manager’s behavior becomes repetitive and they consistently look over your shoulder knowing their interference is unwanted.
Some micromanagers act with the intention of creating a hostile work environment because they believe their subordinates will do better under pressure.
Haters gonna hate, micromanagers gonna micromanage
Acknowledging that micromanagement is usually about the anxieties of the manager and not about you or your work performance can help you feel more confident in your work and help you decide how to move forward on your own.
Micromanagement is about your manager’s fear of failure or about their unrealistic standards or about their need for control. It can also arise due to the manager’s lack of confidence or because they don’t feel respected.
Understanding the reasons behind a micromanager’s behavior can alleviate the emotional tension your feel in your work.
Common reasons people start micromanaging include:
- Low self-esteem and insecurities
- Lack of experience in management
- Extreme need for control—“control freaks”
- Having unqualified employees on the team
- Fear of losing control over the team or a project
- Fear of being humiliated in case of underperformance.
How to spot a micromanager?
Remember, people often don’t even realize they’re micromanaging! Do you know if you are? 🤔
If you answer YES to more than half of the following questions, start thinking more about this issue and, if you can’t change your ways, consider getting help.
- Do you constantly hover over employees, getting too involved in their work?
- Do you ask for frequent feedback and updates?
- Do you prefer to be included in all communications?
- Do you avoid or fear delegating work?
- Do you ever set unrealistic expectations or goals or deadlines for others and/or yourself?
- Do you tell employees exactly how tasks should be done and provide a lot of detailed instructions?
- Do you insist that all work processes must be documented and followed?
- Do find yourself redoing your subordinates’ work because you think you can always make improvements?
- Do you often focus on (unimportant) details, missing the bigger picture?
- Do you continuously monitor employees’ activities to see if they are working?
- Do you find it difficult to relax?
- Do you ever feel overloaded with work or on the verge of burnout?
Is micromanagement all bad?
The impact this style of management has on the well-being and health of employees, and on the general company culture, can easily outweigh possible benefits.
Of course, thorough instructions and close guidance can be beneficial if new employees are being trained and integrated, or when there’s a clear knowledge gap because the company is venturing into a new area of business.
It can be useful with smaller teams who need individual and close guidance from managers, without putting too much pressure on both employees and managers.
It can be useful to ensure that everything is being done according to the company standards, if focused on mentoring new employees and smaller teams.
It can be useful in complex processes where instructions need to be clearly understood and strictly followed.
How to deal with a micromanager?
Start by acknowledging the positive attributes of your office control freak: they are passionate about their job, and they are enthusiastic, motivated, and dedicated. They do have a splendid work ethic!
Generally, they aren’t micromanaging you simply to make your job more difficult or because they like to meddle or to be perceived as an obnoxious individual.
Trying to accept that they’re probably coming from a place of good will can make your life a lot easier!
Even if they believe they do everything better than everyone else, you are still free to voice your opinions and your ideas, even if you must “soften” your speech!
If your office’s control freak is a co-worker and you are both on the same level, you’ll likely have an easier time addressing this issue.
If the control freak is your superior or your boss, you may be opening a whole new can of worms!
If a balanced conversation is possible, consider talking directly to your superior about their behavior by giving examples and explaining the impact it has on you, on your confidence and, ultimately, on your performance.
But before you bring up their micromanaging behavior, take time to analyze your own work ethic too.
Are you doing your best, meaning you are being accountable, competent, and committed?
To soften the blow, ask for specific feedback that can help you improve, and ask how you can gain their trust. Explain that you want to do a good job and be accountable, so their level of involvement or control is unnecessary.
Of course, some managers will be receptive—many didn’t even know they were micromanagers—while others may not appreciate honesty at all. 🤨
You may have to suck it up and move forward. You may also decide to leave—there are other jobs. It’s up to you!
How to intervene constructively?
Sometimes, people need assistance with specific or complex issues rather than superficial instructions or advice. High performance is associated with a certain level of support and guidance.
As a manager, if you want to offer useful assistance, start by understanding the specific problems your employees are facing, and the amount or extent of the help they expect from you.
Provide your input in a way that works for them—depending on whether they need short-term or long-term support, light or intensive guidance, etc.
More than leaving the employees to work on their own blindly and aimlessly, the key is giving employees the help they need without crushing their sense of efficiency and independence.
Imagine you are constantly watering and trimming a plant…. You think you’re helping it, but if you water and trim it too much, it won’t grow. 🌱
So, what’s the alternative?
In macromanagement, managers step back and give employees the freedom to do their job as they see fit as long as the desired result is achieved. By allowing employees to bloom, this a much more effective and productive management style.
A pinch of encouragement—a.k.a. microencouragement—can also work wonders!
“It’s time to get rid of the micromanagement style. Develop microencouragement. It’s our role to innovate in how we lead our organization’s people.”
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