Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 37;   September 10, 2008: Lateral Micromanagement

Lateral Micromanagement

by

Lateral micromanagement is the unwelcome intrusion by one co-worker into the responsibilities of another. Far more than run-of-the-mill bossiness, it's often a concerted attempt to gain organizational power and rank, and it is toxic to teams.
Damage to Purple Loosestrife due to feeding by the galerucella beetle

Damage to Purple Loosestrife due to feeding by the galerucella beetle. Both are invasive species in North America. In their native habitat, the beetle controls the loosestrife, but in North America, where the plant is uncontrolled by native species, the beetle has been imported to prevent the plant from dominating wetlands. The pictured plant is at Fresh Pond Reservation, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Invasive species are in many ways the natural analog of the lateral micromanager. They move into an environment that isn't their own, and quickly dominate unless some element of the invaded domain responds with an effective defense, or unless a new element that can provide an effective defense enters that domain. In work groups and teams, it is the responsibility of management to notice lateral micromanagement (which is, after all, a performance issue) and intervene — that is, to play the role of the galerucella beetle, or to recruit someone who can serve that function. Failing that, someone, or several someones, must step forward to effectively inhibit the behavior of the lateral micromanager. Unless some action is taken to limit the behavior of the invasive species (the lateral micromanager), nothing can prevent it from choking the ecosystem (the team). Photo by E. Wylde, courtesy Cambridge Water Department.

Lateral micromanagement happens most often in everyday interactions or in collaborations between peers, when one co-worker tries to direct others, or exerts undue authoritative influence over them. It's much more than "bossiness" — it usually relates to the career ambitions of the lateral micromanager.

Because ambition is usually involved, lateral micromanagement is often coupled with attempts at image management. The lateral micromanager strives to make clear to higher authority that success of the joint effort is largely due to his or her own personal contributions and leadership, and inversely, failure is due to the poor performance of others.

As with most micromanagement, the nature of the directing behavior focuses not on results but on factors more immediately related to the lateral micromanager's ambitions and self-perception. Here are three of those factors.

How the results are achieved
Lateral micromanagers try to specify techniques, even when the work being done is outside their areas of responsibility. Excuses might include remote but plausible risks, or whether the method is consistent with established procedures, or personal ethical concerns. Often the true goal is to require the use of methods for which the lateral micromanager can claim credit.
The priority, pace, or price of achieving results
By asserting priorities or the need for tight deadlines or tight budgets, often beyond any constraints imposed externally, lateral micromanagers hope to limit choices. Sometimes the constraints rule out approaches competitive with those they advocate. Those constraints can also influence priorities in the micromanager's own favor.
Which resources are employed
Lateral micromanagers sometimes advocate the use of particular resources — human or otherwise — over which they have control or responsibility. This gives them leverage.

Since ambition is the focus, the group's results are not central to the lateral micromanager's goals, which are establishing and consolidating personal power, and creating or burnishing an image of power.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with lateral micromanagers.

Know what to look for
The younger, rapidly rising stars are sometimes skilled not at the work, but at the rising. Lateral micromanagers rise not so much on their achievements or leadership as on their ability to project an image of achievement and leadership.
Maneuver them into personal responsibility
Have them commit publicly to deliver results personally. For example, you could propose, "I'll cover X if you'll cover Y." If you can keep them occupied delivering on personal commitments, they have less time for lateral micromanagement. Be clever; they will resist.
The lateral micromanager's goals
are establishing and consolidating
personal power, and creating
or burnishing an image of power
Beware isolation
Once a lateral micromanager discovers that you understand the strategy, you might be targeted for isolation. Prepare in advance: alert your allies to your intentions, and let them know that the lateral micromanager might try to come between you. Ask for their help.

When you tangle with a lateral micromanager, prepare to have your own image management skills tested, or prepare to learn from a master. Go to top Top  Next issue: The Advantages of Political Attack: II  Next Issue

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; "How to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager," Point Lookout for March 7, 2007; and "Reverse Micromanagement," Point Lookout for July 18, 2007.

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. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrentUagqVWJHXopOePJner@ChacgAcnnkfCDHaLBbgtoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

A Julius Caesar coinOn Organizational Coups d'Etat
If your boss is truly incompetent, or maybe even evil, organizing a coup d'etat might have crossed your mind. In most cases, it's wise to let it cross on through, all the way. Think of alternative ways out.
Polonius's Charge to Laertes, color wood engraving by Bernard Brussel-Smith (1914-1989)A Critique of Criticism: I
Whether we call it "criticism" or "feedback," the receiver can sometimes experience pain, even when the giver didn't intend harm. How does this happen? What can givers of feedback do to increase the chance that the receiver hears the giver's message without experiencing pain?
A member of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus keeps 60 hula hoops going at once during her pre-show act March 27, 2008How to Stop Being Overworked: I
If you feel overworked, you probably are. Here are some tactics for those who want to bring an end to it, or at least, lighten the load.
Armando Galarraga, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers baseball team, pitching on July 25, 2010When Your Boss Conveys Misinformation
When your boss misspeaks — innocently, as opposed to deviously — what should you do? Corrections are not always welcome, but failing to offer corrections can be equally dangerous. How can you tell what to do?
A schematic representation of a MOSFETBottlenecks: II
When some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks," they expose the organization to risks. Managing those risks is a first step to ending the bottlenecking pattern.

See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Artist's concept of possible colonies on future mars missionsComing June 28: Tackling Hard Problems: I
Hard problems need not be big problems. Even when they're small, they can halt progress on any project. Here's Part I of an approach to working on hard problems by breaking them down into smaller steps. Available here and by RSS on June 28.
Artist's depiction of a dust storm on Mars with lightningAnd on July 5: Tackling Hard Problems: II
In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end. Available here and by RSS on July 5.

Coaching services

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

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers 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. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

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!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.