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Victor Prince


Seven Strategies to Manage a Micro-Manager

Overcoming a frustrating rite of passage in the workplace

Published: Thursday, July 11, 2019 - 12:02

If you work long enough, you will have a micro-managing boss or two. These bosses think they know your job better than you do. Maybe they had your job before they got promoted to management. They focus on how you do your job instead of on the results you produce. They think that because you are doing your job differently than they would, you must be doing it incorrectly. Micro-management is a big driver of dissatisfaction and attrition in the workplace.

Seven strategies to manage a micromanaging manager

Diagnose the situation. Is your boss micro-managing others or just you? It is important to understand whether you are being singled out, or if you are just one of many victims. If he micro-manages others, too, it’s probably him, not you. But if you are the only one being micro-managed, it might be you, and it is worth figuring out why. Perhaps your boss is just more interested in your job than others. Or perhaps he thinks you need closer scrutiny. If your boss’s micro-management is due to problems with your performance, you need to surface that discussion and address it head on.

Channel their energy. There is good news with having a micro-managing boss: She is highly engaged and interested in your work. Your manager’s engagement can be an asset for you if you channel that energy the right way. Focus her on providing air cover and clearing obstacles that would help you get your job done. Ask for her help getting resources and building the relationships that will help you do your job. Preempt and target her nitpicking by asking her for her advice on the parts of your job where you would like to learn from her.

Focus on the future. Shift the conversations with your manager from reviewing what you have done in the past to talking about what you plan to do in the future. Get his feedback ahead of time, when it will be most useful. Who knows? Your boss might even have some useful insights. You will also get his buy-in to your plans because you got his input early on. These conversations are naturally less uncomfortable, too, since the mood will be more about brainstorming the future together instead of sitting through an audit of your past.

Build trust through transparency. Micro-managers are eventually going to ask for every detail in your work, especially looking for the mistakes and bad news. Get ahead of the curve by keeping them informed of the biggest risks you see in your work. That not only gives them a chance to give their advice, it also makes them share that risk with you. Micro-managers fear bad surprises. If you can convince them that they are not going to get blindsided from you, they might decrease their micro-management of you.

Demand feedback. It’s her job as a boss, and it’s your right as a team member. Ask your micro-manager for frequent feedback. She is going to share her feedback eventually, so it is best for you to get it in real time so you can act on it. You don’t want to see constructive feedback for the first time on your formal performance review at the end of the year. Take control of your regular check-in meetings with your manager to ask for feedback. Use your annual goals and your expected job competencies as agenda items to keep the conversation focused. Ask her how are you doing against each of them.

Get help. An executive coach or mentor can be a great resource to help you deal with a micro-manager. A mentor can be a sounding board to help you identify the underlying issues with your boss. A mentor can be a brainstorming partner to find strategies to fix them. Sometimes, this person can just be a sympathetic ear to let you vent frustration. Having a nonjudgmental, independent listener in your corner can be refreshing when dealing with a nitpicky boss.

Build your brand. Unfortunately, your situation with a micro-manager boss may not change. Some micro-managers just cannot help themselves. If they don’t move on, maybe you need to. Ideally, you can find new opportunities in your existing organization. Treat every interaction with other leaders in your organization as a chance to impress them. They can become helpful advocates for you if they are in annual review meetings where your performance is compared with your peers. Perhaps they might even recruit you for their team.

Having a micro-manager is a frustrating rite of passage for many people in the workplace. The most important lesson you can take from that experience is learning what micro-managing looks like and how it makes people feel. That way, you will avoid becoming a micro-manager yourself when you lead people.

First published June 12, 2019, on the ThoughtLeaders blog.


About The Author

Victor Prince’s picture

Victor Prince

Victor Prince is the author of The Camino Way: Lessons in Leadership from a Walk Across Spain (AMACOM, 2017). Prince is a thoughtLEADERS instructor and teaches communications, problem solving, and strategy.