If only there was an instruction manual for how to be a good boss in 2022. Well, there is now… kinda. It’s Boss Week at Girlboss and we’re unpacking this very question. Does a good boss look like someone who prioritizes flexibility and transparency? Someone who sets clear professional and personal lines and leaves their ego at the door? If you’ve recently been promoted to a management position and suddenly have a team of people relying on you for *everything*, you’ve probably had your fair share of “what the f*ck am I doing” moments. Well, you’re not alone. We hope that these stories make you feel more equipped to navigate this new (exciting) stage of your career.
One of the most frequently asked questions in our Ask a Girlboss series is about dealing with a micromanager: No one enjoys working under someone who checks in throughout the day, about the smallest tasks and doesn’t put their trust in their direct reports. Sadly, micromanagers are everywhere, often operating under the assumption that they’re just doing their due diligence to stay on top of projects and deadlines. So, how do you cope?
We asked two experts, Teresa A. Daniel, JD, PhD, dean and professor of human resources at Sullivan University and author of the book Organizational Toxin Handlers and Sharlyn Lauby, an author, speaker and president of ITM Group Inc., a consulting firm focused on developing solutions to retain workplace talent. She is also well-known for her work over at HR Bartender.
What is micromanaging?
“Micromanagers typically engage in the following types of behaviors: Constantly checking in to see where employees are (either physically or in terms of project completion), they ask to be copied on all emails, rarely delegate or ask for input. They also tend to take pride in correcting or changing others’ work,” explains Daniel.
“Classic signs of micromanagement include wanting to control every aspect of a process. For example, I had a boss many years ago who explained to me how to fill out a form including what color pen ink the form should be completed in,” says Lauby. “This control aspect can expand to not sharing information, an unwillingness to collaborate, and poor relationship building.”
Where does micromanaging come from?
Back in the 1960s, American management professor Douglas McGregor outlined two styles of leadership: Theory X and Theory Y. “A Theory X manager is one who believes people dislike work, lack ambition, and don’t want to accept responsibility. One could say that if you believe that about employees, then the answer is being a micromanager to make sure that everything gets done,” says Lauby.
Professor Daniel adds that micromanagers tend to be “motivated by an extreme need to control and a desire to dominate all interactions.” Generally, they think that chaos will ensue unless they constantly monitor their employees. “Bottom line: they are often operating from a sense of insecurity and lack of belief in their own abilities which they project onto those they supervise,” says Daniel.
How does micromanaging negatively affect employees?
A micromanager will often make employees feel insignificant by breaking up a project into smaller chunks or never being satisfied with a team’s work. And because they tend to treat every task with equal importance, they fail to set proper priorities for the team. Plus, a micromanager’s constant need for control can result in lack of trust and poor relationship building.
Ok, that all sounds awful. How do you deal with a micromanager?
First, ask yourself if your boss is actually a micromanager or just incredibly hands-on.
“To me, a micromanager is doing what they’re doing because they do not trust or have confidence in their employees. On the other hand, there could be managers who are asking a lot of questions and wanting to get involved not because they don’t trust employees, but because they need to know how to better support them,” offers Lauby.
If however, you are indeed dealing with an untrusting leader, the first step is owning the fact that their management style is a far greater indication of their own trust and leadership issues than your own job performance. If you do go into a conversation with your HR rep or even your boss, do so with secure knowledge of your own talent and ability.
Working under such a boss is, of course, easier said than done. Daniel recommends working with them rather than against. “Do your best to keep them updated about your progress to minimize his or her need to check in. Reassure them that you are ‘on it.’” Unfair as it is, the only way to win over a micromanager is to leave them no room to question your methods. “Exceed expectations, meet deadlines and over-communicate to help alleviate some of their concerns or anxieties,” adds Daniel. Of course, that puts the onus on the employee to change their own work habits rather than the other way around. And that is unfair. “Just because we want to improve the relationship doesn’t always mean we can,” says Lauby.
What to do if you think you’re a micromanager
First, you should ask yourself why you feel that way. “Is it because you’re seeing a change in employee performance?” offers Lauby. “And if so, there are other options: talk to human resources, consider employee training and coaching, or look at upskilling/reskilling,” she says.
Daniel echoes this, “It’s important to understand that if your employees don’t feel like you trust them, this will impact their performance individually as well as the team as a whole.” Establish realistic goals, and reasonable check-ins—remember, it’s ok to let your employees initiate communication. It doesn’t always have to start with you.
And remember: “Controlling every aspect of the process doesn’t have to be option number one. Frankly, it doesn’t need to be options two or three either,” adds Lauby.