When Your Boss Is a Micromanager
by Rick Brenner
If your boss is a micromanager, your life can be a seemingly endless misery of humiliation and frustration. Changing your boss is one possible solution, but it's unlikely to succeed. What you can do is change the way you experience the micromanagement.
Robert stepped into Kevin's office, closed the door and sat down in a heap. "I'll call you back," Kevin said to the phone. He hung up and asked Robert, "Well?" Robert gazed blankly at the floor. "He wants to screen every resume and interview every candidate himself. With his schedule, we'll never get this done."
"Well, Robert, he is a micromanager," Kevin said. "But there's a bright side — we don't have to do it."
Robert sighed. "No, we still do, but now he does it too. He's not micromanaging, he's nanomanaging."
Do you work for a micromanager? Here are some indicators:
- You're told what must be done, when it's due, and precisely how to do it.
- Your boss's instructions often belie an incomplete or incorrect understanding of the work.
- You have to report status more often than your boss could possibly need for constructive intervention.
- Your boss has become a bottleneck, because he or she is too involved in the details of what happens in the organization.
If your boss micromanages, what can you do? Much is written about changing your boss, and sometimes some of it works. But unless your boss actually wants your help in learning not to micromanage, changing your boss is an unlikely outcome. About the last thing a typical micromanager wants from a subordinate is help in stopping the micromanagement.
What you can do is change the way you experience the micromanagement. You can cope effectively if you keep some basics in mind.
- Everyone feels the pain
- Micromanaging hurts people, and that's sad. Micromanagers are also in pain. They take on the burdens of micromanagement in a futile attempt to stop their pain. Everyone is caught in the same painful place.
- "The problem is never the problem — the coping is the problem." — Virginia Satir
- Most micromanagers
don't want your help with
Work on changing your
own experience instead.
- Since micromanagement is a way of asserting control, try to understand what your boss sees as out of control. Recall a time when you felt things were out of your control. How did you cope?
- You still like some things about your job
- What do you like about your job? The work? The pay? The independence you still have? Move it to the center of your work life. Celebrating it creates energy for dealing with the more difficult parts of your job.
- You have choices
- You can choose to work elsewhere. That choice might not be appealing, but you can choose it. If you stay, stay because staying is the best option available.
Commiserating with your peers — or miserating solo — might feel good in the moment, but it puts the focus on the hurt. Instead, focus on what you love. Top Next Issue
For a survey of tactics for managing pressure, take a look at the series that begins with "Managing Pressure: Communications and Expectations," Point Lookout for December 13, 2006.
For more about micromanagement, see "There Are No Micromanagers," Point Lookout for January 7, 2004; "Are You Micromanaging Yourself?," Point Lookout for November 24, 2004; "How to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager," Point Lookout for March 7, 2007; "Reverse Micromanagement," Point Lookout for July 18, 2007; and "Lateral Micromanagement," Point Lookout for September 10, 2008.
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