Does your line manager delegate tasks to you and then keep checking up on your progress? Do they chase you well before the agreed deadline? Do they interfere in even the most trivial jobs to make sure it’s being done the way they prefer?
Then chances are, you’ve got yourself a micromanager. Or, if these sound like things you might do to your team members, then… I’m afraid it’s you.
Let’s first explore the impact of this kind of behaviour, and then look at some of the root causes. After that, we’ll see what you might to do manage it or, better still, prevent it.
The impact of micromanagement
Let’s start with the hard truth. Whatever else they do, micro managers demotivate their people.
They disengage them, and they remove any chance that their people can be creative, passionate or innovative. They discourage learning and prevent any sense of being valued or appreciated.
A micromanager makes people feel like they are just a drone, there to do exactly what they’re told in exactly the way they’ve been told to do it. Micromanaged staff soon understand that it isn’t their job to think or care, just to complete their allotted tasks to the manager’s satisfaction.
Being micromanaged has a damaging effect on people’s self-esteem. It makes them feel that they aren’t trusted, that their line manager thinks they can’t do the job properly, and that they aren’t allowed to come up with new ideas or better ways of doing things.
As a consequence, a micromanager usually ends up with a team of discouraged minimalists, who do just enough and can’t wait to go home. Their best people leave to work somewhere else, where they can use their skills and their brain, where they are appreciated and can make a difference. The ones who stand it and stay are usually the ones who didn’t want to give more, don’t care that much, and are satisfied to just leave their brain in neutral until it’s time to leave for the day.
How to engage your team members
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What causes micromanagement?
So why on earth would a manager want to have this effect?
Well, it’s complicated. Usually, it stems from one of three things:
a) The manager is driven by fear. Fear of failure. Fear of being let down or exposed. Fear of being made to look bad or weak.
b) It be a learned behaviour, from working with or for other micromanagers, or in a culture that rewards managers who closely scrutinise their people.
c) Finally, it could be that the manager really thinks this is the right way to manage and doesn’t see the negative impacts that such a leadership style inevitably causes.
Whichever it is, there is little to recommend it, especially not as a ‘default’ approach. Certainly there are times when the ‘Theory X’ autocratic style is appropriate, typically when under extreme time pressure, leading an unskilled or untrained team or in a crisis when something has gone very wrong and needs to be rectified immediately. But these should be short-term situations. The good manager will seek to get away from this ‘X’ end as quickly as they can, empowering their team members and delegating appropriate levels of freedom.
Not only does it kill engagement and destroy innovation, but it wastes managers’ time, causing them to spend precious hours closely supervising things that they should be able to trust a competent team member to do. Micromanaging is time-expensive and reduces productivity. Ironic, as the rationale of many micromanagers is that they are ensuring the exact opposite.
Some tell themselves that they’re ‘helping’. That their people ‘value their input’ or ‘need their guidance’. Of course, this may be true, but I’d want to be very sure indeed that this wasn’t just a self-justification for paranoia and mistrust.
Dealing with your micromanager
So what can you do to manage your micromanager? Well, it depends on the situation.
a) If they are a deadline paranoiac, worried you won’t get things done on time, then keep them informed of progress. Beat the deadline and tell them you have. Tell them when something is scheduled to happen. They fear the unknown and the uncertain. Take that away and their behaviour may change.
b) If it’s because they don’t trust you or the team, try to understand why. Consider what might have caused them to feel this way and how you can change their view. Overperform. Show and grow the capability of yourself and the rest of the team. Make them aware of the efforts you are making and why.
c) If they are afraid of the opinions of others, especially their own line manager, then support them. Make them look good. Show them and the team in a good light. Make them, dare I say it, proud.
Micromanaging can be a cultural thing, a norm within the organisation. Usually this stems from the top, but it can also come from the pressures acting on the organisation, or on the sector as a whole.
If this is the case, you may only have limited opportunities to influence it. In that case, consider whether the job or the organisation is right for you.
You only have one career; why spend it being demotivated and dissatisfied, feeling undervalued and unappreciated?