Are you a micromanager?

Are you a micromanager?

Micromanager! It’s a term that can strike dread in many leaders and managers, and can prompt all sorts of defences and excuses.

Whether you’ve received this insight as part of a formal feedback program (like a 360 process), via a performance review or even as casual feedback, the initial reaction can be “that’s not me”. Being told you’re a micromanager can feel like the equivalent of a slap in the face. Telling your boss they are one can be even harder.

How to identify if your micromanaging

The signs of micromanaging are quite clear to others, even if you can’t see them yourself.

  • You offer your opinion on how to do a task (“Here’s how I would do it”) before giving your team time to ask for input first (“How would you do it?”)
  • You’re never quite satisfied with what your team delivers, and often feel frustrated because you would have gone about the task differently than they did.
  • You are quick to focus in on the details of a project and take great pride in making suggestions or corrections. You feel that if you aren’t making suggestions then you’re not adding value.
  • You constantly want to know where all your team are and what they’re working on. You will mentally log what time someone arrives or leaves the office (or in a remote working situation appears online or offline). Remember, the quality of results achieved on a project has little to do with the amount of time spent at the desk or online.
  • You have a habit on checking in on where things are in a project before they are due. You commonly ask, “How are things going?” or “What’s the latest?” This may seem harmless to you, and important that you get the answer, but can it make your direct reports feel like you are watching their every move.
  • You ask to be cc’ed on emails. It’s understandable that you want to be kept in the loop – context helps you as a manager. But, while being included on email threads is appropriate in some cases, the number of emails you are included on “just in case” can reveal how much space you’re giving your team to do their best work. It also floods your inbox and means you might loose an important message in all the cc’s.

The impact on your team

Absolutely no one likes to be micromanaged. It’s demoralising and frustrating. It removes your team’s sense of autonomy and trust. And yet, some leaders and managers can’t seem to step away from managing every detail. For employees, dealing with a controlling boss who doesn’t trust them, or their team, can be one of the hardest parts of any project.

Micromanaging not only has a negative effect on team morale, by establishing a culture of mistrust, it also limits their capacity to grow the company and themselves.

How to shift away from micromanaging

Get feedback

The first step in in any behavioural change is awareness. Whether this is via formal channel (like the 360 degree work WiserLife does with clients) or a more informal check-in with colleagues, direct reports or your boss. In our experience there can often be a significant disconnect between what a manager or leader’s intention, and what their team actually experiences.

Ensure any feedback provided is confidential so employees know a manager won’t know who said what. And remember, what you hear may be sobering, so stay open to feedback. It is critical to seeing how significant the issue is.

Reflect on the why

Once you have received the feed back that your team are experiencing the impacts of micromanaging, the next step is to reflect on the reasons why you micromanage. These behaviours can consciously or unconscious come from some insecurity. Maybe you’re fearful of not being across every detail is you’re asked a question or afraid your team not doing a piece of work to your particular standard will reflect badly on you.

They key is the look beyond the surface excuses (“It will save time if I do it myself” or “There’s too much is at stake with this project”) and look at the source of the issue.

Prioritise what matters

A good manager strategises, develops and delegates to their team. You can’t do that if you’re taking on everything yourself, regardless of the task.

You can use the Eisenhower Decision Matrix to help you with Prioritisation.

eisenhower decision matrix - urgent/important vs. not urgent/not important

You can start the process by creating a list of projects or tasks and deciding what work is important for you to be involved in, and what items are less important. You should also highlight the tasks/projects on your list where you truly add value, and ensure you are spending most of your time and energy on those items. 

Micromanaging can derail the real work of managers and leaders, leaving them exhausted, with too many things on their plate and risking burnout.

Time to take a step back

Micromanaging is a hard habit to break. There may be a few challenges and stumbles as your team learns to step up. But ultimately it will allow everyone to perform much better with greater accountability.

Andrea has spent over 25 years working with organisations, leaders and employees at every stage of a business and career life cycle. She has created positive impact for organisations through her work with executives, leadership teams, and diverse functional teams within the arts, education, government and media organisations as examples. With over 15 years experience within career development and coaching, her direct knowledge of individuals fears and challenges and insights across a broad spectrum of sectors and organisations, creates a unique understanding of what employees need to thrive.