I recently had lunch with a former colleague who is getting beat up at work. Through a series of twists and turns, she has ended up reporting to someone who fits the “Micro-manager” definition to a tee. You know those types of people, right? Perhaps they pride themselves on their perfectionism or on making OTHERS work perfectly. Their routine includes some of these behaviors:
- Requiring access to their staff member’s calendar at all times (not just to check meeting availability)
- Watching the clock to make sure their help doesn’t arrive late or leave early
- Asking others to monitor (and snitch) on what their co-workers are doing
- Demanding real-time reporting (updates/status reports/spreadsheets) on projects that an employee is supposed to “own”
As I listened to my friend’s stories, I couldn’t help but think of the episode from The Office where Dwight sent someone to spy on Oscar to see if he was legitimately sick. The ridiculousness of micro-managing is so common and so well understood, the term is practically a cliché. The fact this management style still exists makes me wonder: don’t bosses know the pitfalls of this behavior?
When you hover over people and act as if your employee needs constant supervision, you communicate at least five negative things:
- Distrust – “You won’t do the job unless I’m watching.”
- Pride/Superiority – “My instructions for doing the job are the better than any method you might use.”
- Power Trip – “ I will monitor your moves because it’s my right as your boss.”
- Insecurity – “I am afraid to give up any control to you.”
- Backwards Priorities – “I have nothing better to do with my time than watch you.”
So why do people act this way??
I think there are only three possible explanations for micro-managing: (1) the micro-manager isn’t aware that his (or her) behavior is out of line; (2) they think their controlling behavior is a legitimate way to lead a team; or, (3) they may want to give up control, but don’t know how.
In a previous post, I talked about how Awareness Proceeds Choice & Choice Proceeds Change. If a person doesn’t recognize their behavior (awareness), they won’t ever make decisions (choices) that will lead to different behavior (change). If you work for a micro- manager who falls in group #1 above, it’s probably not realistic for you to act as a coach to them. Similarly, if you work for manager #2 above (who believes that hovering is best), you can’t expect much change there either.
So for #1 and #2, polish up your resume and move on from your position ASAP.
However, if you work for someone who realizes that they may have a tendency to over-manage, you should realize that you DO have a role to play in their growth. (See yesterday’s post for why you can’t expect change!) Here are a few simple (but not easy) next steps:
- Look for signs that the manager thinks that they might be out of line. This includes apologizing for requests, covering up bad behavior, or over-compensating by sometimes UNDER managing. If you see these things beginning to happen, offer reassurances that you’re on the job regardless of the manager’s mood of the day.
- Avoid power struggles. Recognize that you ARE under your boss’s authority; so keep a positive attitude when they ask for information (even when it feels like over-kill). The more you fight and defend, the more your manager will dig in.
- Find a good offense. Find ways where you can proactively give your boss information. If you lead in communication, you can establish your own terms about how information moves around.
- Stay flexible. Your ability to adjust to a demanding boss isn’t about just pleasing them; it trains you in the fine art of adaptability. Odds are this won’t be your last encounter with a micro-manager!
- Give grace. Your nightmare boss has her (or his) own set of issues, fears, and pressures that you won’t ever fully understand or appreciate. They are not your enemy, but they ARE giving you the “opportunity” to build your character and skill set. Practicing patience always benefits you.
If you don’t work for a micro-manager, is there any chance that you could BE one? In tomorrow’s post we’ll cover how to change your own behaviors if you suspect you’re a little too involved with your staff’s business!