3 Ways to Deal with a Micromanaging Boss and Maintain Your Sanity

Let’s be honest. It can sometimes be difficult to motivate yourself on a normal work day. Add in a manager that is breathing down your neck constantly, nitpicking every detail of your work, and often doesn’t appear to trust you to do anything on your own, and well, it can be a recipe for disaster. You may find yourself wanting to scream obscenities and remind people that you have a brain and can do the job you were hired for - quite well in fact! But this option will only lead to more frustration, and perhaps the need for you to find new employment a little sooner than you had planned.

We all have a tendency to make things about us and often personalize the actions of a bad manager.  In most cases, it has nothing to do with your capabilities and everything to do with your managers own struggles and shortcomings.   You were hired, transferred or promoted into a position because someone (or lots of someone’s) felt you could do the job. So take a deep breath and keep things in perspective.

Let’s start with the why.  Why, despite the universal understanding of how devastating this managerial style can be for a company, are there so many people out there still micromanaging? 

With the constant churn and burn of corporate culture, micromanagers are likely here to stay. Without getting too heady on the topic (I’m not a psychologist and I don’t play one on TV) there are three things your boss may be thinking or feeling that is causing the behavior: unfamiliarity, lack of trust and insecurity. Obviously you can’t go up to your boss and ask why he/she doesn’t trust you or is feeling insecure. You can, however, learn to recognize your manager’s struggles and proactively (and quietly) address them to break this toxic cycle and regain some of your sanity.

Is your boss’s unfamiliarity holding you back?  Very few people are comfortable working in ‘the gray’.  When you’re leading a team on a topic you are not deeply familiar with and being held accountable for the results, that can be a really uncomfortable spot for many managers and leaders.  Adding more fuel to the fire, the higher up your manager moves in the organization the less first-hand knowledge they have about the areas they’re leading.  This can result in micromanagement getting worse (not better) as you move higher up. The tone is always set from the top. If you’re in a group where an executive is a micromanager, rest assured the majority of the leadership team will demonstrate the same behaviors and you’ve just found yourself in the middle of control freak central. What do you do? Educate your boss and ask for the same in return.  You know the subject like the back of your hand, but have a limited perspective of the political and strategic conversations that may be influencing your work. Sit down with your boss and get the full picture of what’s really going on, then teach them about the parts of your job that will be affected by the shifting organizational dynamics.  Agree on a consistent check point routine (daily if you have to) and when to raise an early warning sign if things start looking a bit funky. If your manager feels you have a good understanding of the entire landscape, and they have a better understanding of where things could go wrong, the pressure will ease up over time. 

Is trust an issue? This one is the most common root cause of micromanagement and unfortunately takes the longest to get on track.  Without trust, managers will have a hard time empowering you to do a job they will take accountability for if it fails. Building trust takes time and chemistry.  There are some people that just fit right away and become “your person” almost overnight. Other people may need a bit more time before deciding if you belong in their inner circle.  The bottom line is that trust isn’t a manager thing, it’s a human thing. Put yourself in their shoes. The best thing you can do with a micromanager that is lacking trust is to over-communicate and make sure there are no surprises, good or bad. Take the time to understand their motivations and concerns. Maybe the last project they led failed miserably, or maybe they’re up for a promotion and this will make or break the decision.  Ask your manager what he /she is most worried about in terms of your role and what keeps them up at night? Then work to proactively address those concerns. Talk about what breakthrough performance will look like and how that will impact them. Find out how they best like to communicate (verbal, email etc.) and what types of information they need most often.  If you’re the one providing the information proactively, sure - it’s a complete nuisance but it’s on your terms.  They start to expect certain behaviors from you and the stress from being micromanaged will dwindle. If you’re communicating consistently with your manager in a way that works for them, trust begins to build and the micromanagement becomes less frequent.

Does your boss have insecurity issues? This issue is the trickiest because it’s the most difficult for managers to admit. Your manager may be struggling with the imposter syndrome where he/she doesn’t feel adequate for their own role or may just feel threatened by anyone who appears smarter and could ultimately take their job. Insecurity is real and it’s rampant. How many managers do you know that make a practice of hiring people smarter than they are?  Not many. And insecurity is a big reason why. Fortunately, while this is the most difficult one to address, it’s the easiest one to remedy. I’ve worked for many bosses with insecurity issues and have learned a thing or two along the way – the hard way.  The first insecure boss I had ended up firing me.  WOW!  I was one of the companies’ top performers and found myself out the door. Who knew such a thing could happen? I didn’t want that to happen again, so I learned how to adjust my behavior.  Insecure managers always put themselves first. You need to operate at their level and put your boss first too. Ask them what success looks like for them, what they would consider a home run and where the pitfalls could be.  Make sure they know this is all about helping them be successful because when they win, everyone wins. When your job becomes all about making your manager look good and you openly communicate those intentions, you’ll find the micromanagement behaviors almost disappear. This can be a major blow to your ego and is obviously not fair, but if you want to progress your career in this type of environment, it’s time to suck it up and do what you need to do to get promoted and stop the micromanagement cycle yourself.

I coach many leaders on correcting their micromanagement behaviors, and despite acknowledging that they prefer not to operate this way, it’s hard to change human nature.  Unfortunately micromanagement is likely here to stay for the time being. Hopefully these approaches on how to best interact with a micromanaging boss will reduce some of your frustrations and improve the relationship between you and your boss.

Are you looking for executive coaching or interested in our Foundational Leadership series?  Contact us at info@coralcg.com today and find out how we can help!

Foundational Leadership
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