How to Know if You’re a Micromanager and How to Stop

Micromanager article photo

Micromanagers are present in most organizations, and many of us have worked for one at some point in our careers. Once you ask people to share their experiences working for a micromanager, there is usually a common denominator: the need for control.

 One of my colleagues had to review each email with her manager before she sent it. Another friend’s manager walked through the office several times daily, checking for “attendance.” One of my former managers asked me to design a presentation layout, then sat on my desk and dictated how to do it. I wondered why she asked me to own this project and make recommendations when she really just wanted me to execute her vision. That experience left me feeling unmotivated, and ultimately, I started looking for another job.

Micromanagement is a well-known phenomenon and not one with a positive connotation. Yet, it’s still prevalent in many workplaces. If we know micromanagement is toxic, and no one likes working with a micromanager, why does it still happen? Some micromanagers might not realize the harm they are inflicting on their team and brush it off as having high standards or claiming they are “perfectionists.” Either way, micromanaging tactics do much more harm than good.

What is micromanaging:

In the simplest terms, micromanaging occurs when there is a lack of trust. The hallmarks of micromanagement generally include needing to be involved in every little step of a process, checking in constantly, and offering criticism rather than support. Micromanagers have a hard time letting go of control. They rule rather than lead and operate using fear as a motivator rather than coaching and positive reinforcement.  

Signs that you’re a micromanager?

Here is a list of ways micromanagers operate in a team environment. Read below and see if you identify with any of these actions:

  1. Are you an overly involved manager that needs to know every detail of every project your team is working on, no matter how small?
  2. Are you constantly “checking in” on your team’s progress?
  3. Do you get angry or frustrated when your direct reports work differently than you?
  4. Do you have a hard time delegating and then letting go?
  5. Do you believe the only way to do something correctly is to do it yourself?
  6. When reviewing your team’s work, do you offer more criticism than positive feedback?
  7. Do you need to know where your direct reports are at all times during the workday?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the above questions, you are exhibiting traits of a micromanager.

How do people become micromanagers?

Maybe your first manager was a micromanager, and now you’re modelling your leadership approach after them, or perhaps you suffer from trust issues. A common belief among micromanagers is that they are the only ones who know how to do something correctly. Sometimes micromanaging occurs because of fundamental problems at a company. Deadlines might be tight, leaving no room for error and no buffer time for mistakes. This pressure can cause leaders to panic about timing, resulting in overbearing behavior and extreme control.

How micromanaging can cause inefficiency:

According to the Harvard Business Review can have a devastating effect on efficiency.  

Micromanagers often think that by overseeing every step of a process, they can bring it to completion quicker and with better results. However, that’s only sometimes the case. If, as a manager, you need to know every detail of the process, it’s a sign that you need more confidence in your team. This lack of confidence and fear of making mistakes can make people feel paralyzed, unempowered, and ultimately stressed. These feelings usually slow progress since people not only have to get approval for every step of the process, they start to second-guess their recommendations. The stress of overthinking things and being afraid of being reprimanded can actually result in more mistakes.

Micromanagement not only hurts your team, but it can also hamper your growth. If you’re always focusing on the small details, it takes time away from strategic, big-picture work expected at a management level. Learning and growing are more manageable when you’re not spending time in the weeds.

How to stop micromanaging:

If you’ve identified yourself as a micromanager, there are ways to modify your behavior and become a positive manager. Here are eight ways to stop the micromanaging cycle:

1. Hire the right people:

A great place to start is hiring the right people for your team. Hiring the wrong person who can’t grasp the responsibilities required of a role will require more oversight and can lead to the perception of micromanagement. On the same note, if you’ve discovered that, after appropriate coaching, a person is not suitable for a role, address it sooner rather than later. Be brave and open and have the honest conversations that need to happen.

2. Build trust:

Once you’re confident you have the right team in place, you can work on building trust. Trust is a two-way street, you need to trust your team, and they need to trust you. You can work on developing trust by getting to know your team better, being authentic in how you interact with them and putting agreements in place that set expectations for work output and check-ins. Setting these expectations for check-ins can allow you to make sure things are on track and identify when coaching or additional training is needed. For help with this, Bosstrack has a complete course on Building Trust With Your Team

3. Identify and provide training needs:

Use your check-ins and other feedback to identify additional training needs. When you recognize that more training is required – provide the training. This can be done by providing it yourself, having that person spend time with someone on the team with that knowledge, or finding external training opportunities. Invest in your people.

4. Ask for feedback to learn how employees want to be led:

Don’t assume you know how your team wants to be led since everyone is different. Ask them how they prefer to work, what they need from you and how they want to interact. Agree on a schedule for checking in that works for both of you – so you can feel confident that the work is getting done, and they can feel like they have the freedom and trust to work the way they want. Check in regularly to ask for feedback to find out what they think about your leadership style.

5. Understand your why:

Understanding why you must be aware of every single part of a process is also essential. Is this the result of an experience where you felt you had no control? Is your boss a micromanager? Do you control other aspects of your life as much as you do your team? Once you understand why you’re exhibiting this behavior, changing it will be easier. Here are some steps to help rehabilitate your micromanaging ways. 

6. Learn to delegate: 

Delegation can be tricky if you have control issues, but it is possible. Start small and give your team members easy tasks to complete. The hard part? Trusting that they will do the job well. Clarity, context, and communication are vital in this process. When giving a new task or project, explain the main objective and your expectations and set touch base meetings at significant milestones. Establishing milestones will prevent you from constantly following up and “checking in.” Letting go of control will allow your reports to feel empowered and motivated to do a great job. 

7. Focus on the result of the process rather than the process itself:

We all work differently, and if you expect everyone on the team to work the same way you do, you will always be disappointed. In most cases, how someone gets to the end of the project is fine as long as it meets expectations and is on time. 

8. Coaching versus critiquing:

One of the most significant shifts you can make as a manager is to focus on coaching your team rather than critiquing their performance. Even if your report delivered lackluster results despite their best efforts, use this opportunity to coach them rather than pointing out their faults. Coaching feels positive and empowering while critiquing makes people feel like they can’t do anything right. The relationship between a manager, who coaches, and a direct report is respective and collaborative. People feel accountable but supported, allowing them to feel safe when making recommendations. Relationships with micromanagers who criticize are more transactional, less personal and strained.

Looking hard at your management style and being open to modifying your behavior can benefit you and your team members. If you need help, working with a mentor or taking leadership courses can go a long way. Bosstrack offers courses to help you grow as a manager and shift your mindset to help you create and lead a healthy, happy, and productive team.


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