How to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager
by Rick Brenner
By now, we've all heard of micromanagers, and some have experienced micromanagement firsthand. Some of us have even micromanaged others. But there's a breed of micromanagers whose behavior is so outlandish that they need a category of their own.
If you think you might be working for a micromanager, but you aren't sure, count yourself lucky, because when your boss is a micromanager, there's absolutely no doubt. Um, wait, there is some doubt — your boss might be a nanomanager. Nanomanagers are about a thousand times worse. They do most of what micromanagers do, but they do it more often, and way better. Here's a little catalog of what it takes to be a nanomanager.
Has open door policy, but the door in question is yours.
William Bligh, Captain of HMS Bounty, which experienced a mutiny on April 28, 1789. Illustration from A Voyage to the South Sea, his book on the subject. Courtesy Project Gutenberg, the oldest producer of
free ebooks on the Internet.
- For any task, specifies precisely how and by-when.
- When you can't do the how or you miss the by-when for a task, determines the how and the by-when of determining the new how and the new by-when.
- Does the things you're supposed to do, but still insists that you do them too.
- Is too busy doing your job to pay any attention to own job.
- Can't tolerate incompetent subordinates.
- Can't tolerate competent subordinates.
- Demands the impossible.
- Is clueless about difference between what's possible and what's not.
- Doesn't understand — and therefore rejects — all explanations of why the impossible is impossible.
- Blames subordinates for all failures.
- Claims responsibility for all successes.
- Sees no need to recognize contributions of subordinates, since there aren't any.
- Makes Captain Queeg and Captain Bligh look like management geniuses.
- Has fingers in everything, but has no idea where anything stands.
- Demands next status report before previous status report is completed.
- Claims all assignments are clear and unambiguous.
- Won't supply clear answers to questions about ambiguous assignments.
- Corrects the way you ask clarifying questions about ambiguous assignments.
- Has said, "I don't like surprises," but gets obvious thrills from surprising subordinates.
- Nanomanagers are like
micromanagers, but about
1000 times worseIs isolated from peers, with possible exception of other nanomanagers.
- Changes directions frequently, but doesn't necessarily inform subordinates.
- When contradicted by Reality, or by own boss, claims never to have said or believed what was contradicted.
- Can't always resist the urge to tell subordinates how to use the phone system.
- Doesn't actually know how to use the phone system.
- Sits in on meetings chaired by subordinates, saying, "Pretend I'm not here," then hijacks meeting.
- Insists on signing off on all decisions of subordinates, and regularly rejects some.
- Countermands decisions of subordinates, then makes same decisions a few days later.
- Can't always coherently explain what was wrong with rejected decisions.
- Never takes vacation.
- Does get sick from time to time, but comes to work anyway, saying, "I'm needed."
- Takes sick days only for major surgery, and then only while still anesthetized.
- Periodically tries to build rapport with subordinates, by stopping by for friendly, relaxed chats, but only when hard deadline is imminent.
- Strenuously denies micromanaging anyone, ever.
There's more, but do I have to spell it out for you? (Just kidding.) 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 "When Your Boss Is a Micromanager," Point Lookout for December 5, 2001; "There Are No Micromanagers," Point Lookout for January 7, 2004; "Are You Micromanaging Yourself?," Point Lookout for November 24, 2004; "Reverse Micromanagement," Point Lookout for July 18, 2007; and "Lateral Micromanagement," Point Lookout for September 10, 2008.
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