In my work as an executive coach, I have the opportunity to hear about a lot of different approaches to management – both from leaders and from the people who report to them. I hear about the approaches that people love (e.g. inspirational bosses, who take a genuine interest in their employees’ development), and styles that employees find aggravating (e.g. impatient or critical bosses with low emotional intelligence). Of all of the challenges that employees face with their bosses, the one that seems to be the most frustrating, is working for a micromanager.
Considering that autonomy is linked to a greater sense of well-being and satisfaction on the job, it’s unsurprising that working for a boss who manages you too closely would be demotivating. The decreased sense of agency that micromanaging causes, can make people feel less ownership of what they are creating. Further, not only does micromanagement tend to feel stifling, it can also, somewhat ironically, lower the quality of work that employees produce. I’ve heard many reports from people who have simply given up trying to please their bosses because they know that regardless of what they do, their work is going to be criticized and torn apart.
If your boss is a micromanager, you might feel helpless. However, there are some strategies you can try that could possibly improve the situation. Put them in practice, and see if it makes a dent in the behavior!
1. Ensure that you are performing at a high level
When your boss is a micromanager, the first thing to consider is whether it’s because you actually need to be supervised so closely. Self-reflect and think about if your level of work quality is consistently high. Do you attend to detail? Do you take initiative to solve problems? Are you new, and requiring a lot of direction? If your performance is not what it should be, your boss might be micromanaging because he or she doesn’t trust that you’re going to deliver. So, as a first step, make sure that you’re producing high quality work.
2. Consider your boss’ needs – and try to fulfill them
Assuming that your work product is sound, and your boss just tends to micromanage everyone, the next step is to reflect on your boss’ needs. Come up with a hypothesis about what is driving the micromanagement. Is your boss a perfectionist? Does he or she have high needs for control? Is your boss anxious, with a need to know what’s going on and that work is getting done?
Once you’ve diagnosed the cause, strive to address the areas that are important to your boss so that he or she will trust you more. If she is a perfectionist, triple check your work to make sure there are no mistakes. If he is anxious or has high control needs, communicate about how things are proceeding, and be as responsive as possible, so he won’t have to wonder. Ask for clear expectations up front, so that you’ll know exactly what your leader is looking for. That way you’ll increase the odds that they’ll be happy with what you produce.
Having worked for a few micromanagers in my time, I have found that staying communicative works particularly well. Letting your leader know when they will hear back from you (and following up as promised, with good work), often scratches their itch for staying informed, and tends to prevent them from constantly checking in with you for updates. In turn, this can help you to feel more empowered, since you are the one who is initiating the communication, as opposed to responding to constant demands. Admittedly, these approaches may not get rid of the micromanaging behaviors completely, but they can definitely help.
3. Talk about it
If you feel safe to do so, it can also be helpful to have an open dialogue about your leader’s behavior. For example, if your boss ever asks for feedback. you could delicately state that you sometimes feel as though you’re being managed very closely, and that you’re wondering why. Explore if there are aspects of your work with which your leader isn’t happy. Ask how you might be able to earn his or her trust.
If your boss doesn’t ask for feedback regularly, then you could ask to set up a time to talk about how things are going in your work relationship. Avoid using the term “micromanagement,” as it can be emotionally charged. Instead, outline the specific behaviors that are presenting challenges for you, using terms like “a lot of structure,” “more oversight than I’m accustomed to,” or “needing a lot of detail.”
Then, ask for clarity about why those behaviors are occurring. Under-performance could definitely be one reason, and if that’s the case, find out how you can improve. However, a lot of micromanagers have received feedback about their behavior before, so a conversation about it could possibly serve as a helpful reminder for them to monitor themselves more appropriately. You could also request the opportunity to experiment by working on a project in which you have less oversight, but agreed upon check-in points in advance. Then, if your boss agrees to this, do your absolute best, so they’ll know that you can manage it.
Of course, there are some people who simply can’t resist their tendency to micro-manage. If your boss is a micromanager, and you just can’t take it, then you might consider looking into other options.
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