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December 5, 2001 Volume 1, Issue 49
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When Your Boss Is a Micromanager


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:

  • BottleneckYou'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
their micromanagement.
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. Go to top Top  Next issue: Workplace Politics vs. Integrity  Next Issue
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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.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbreneGboPTPiJXSWFIYTner@ChacYfCrqycDBAUIhjAaoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
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The U.S. Capitol Building, seat of both houses of the legislatureComing October 14: Contextual Causes of Conflict: Part II
Too often we assume that the causes of destructive conflict lie in the behavior or personalities of the people directly participating in the conflict. Here's Part II of an exploration of causes that lie elsewhere. Available here and by RSS on October 14.
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When things go wrong, and we look back at how we got there, we must sometimes admit to wishful thinking. Here's a framework for managing the risk of wishful thinking. Available here and by RSS on October 21.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenWguZBDAMjmGsvMIqner@ChacrAFVsPSHdqIpHiyOoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

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The Race to the South Pole: The Organizational Politics of Risk Management
On 14The Race to the South Pole: The Organizational Politics of Risk Management December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in risk management, its application to organizational efforts, and how workplace politics enters the mix. A fascinating and refreshing look at risk management from the vantage point of history and workplace politics. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

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TeamsTeam Development for Leaders at work are often teams in name only — they're actually just groups. True teams are able to achieve much higher levels of performance than groups can. In this program, Rick Brenner shows team leads and team sponsors the techniques they need to form their groups into teams, and once they are teams, how to keep them there. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Managing in Fluid Environments
Most Managing in Fluid Environmentspeople now work in environments that can best be characterized as fluid, because they're subject to continual change. We never know whats coming next. In such environments, managing — teams, projects, groups, departments, or the enterprise — often entails moving from surprise to surprise while somehow staying almost on track. It's a nerve-wracking existence. This program provides numerous tools that help managers who work in fluid environments. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble StartsLearn how to spot troubled projects before they get out of control.
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
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