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Me? A Micromanager?

You have probably heard the old adage: people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. One of the drivers of unwanted turnover is micromanaging (or if you prefer, over managing). I don’t know anyone who appreciates this kind of behavior, and based on countless 360’s I’ve done over the years, I can tell you first-hand that a lot of micromanagers do not recognize that they are one!

What causes micromanaging? Easy: fear. Could be a fear someone will do a thing better than I will, or they will not do it as well as I would, or a fear of simply loosing control, etc. Micromanagers then find ways to justify their disrespectful and demeaning behavior: “I’m helping”.

In a great article a number of years ago in the Harvard Business Review called the Setup to Fail Syndrome, the point was made that if you watch someone closely enough, sooner or later they will mess something up (or maybe just do something differently than you would). That “got ya!” leads to more slip ups and reinforces the micromanaging behaviors of the manager. Pretty soon the employees are so fearful of messing up that they are frozen in fear and refuse to think for themselves, relying instead on the boss for all decisions.

Effectively employees do not develop, they learn to be dependent. Leadership is about developing your direct reports, this leads to engagement, it leads to people bringing their hearts and minds to work, and it leads to your success as a leader. If you’ve been over managing your people, starting to trust them and empower them can be scary, but it is a muscle you must develop, or you will be waving goodbye to your best and brightest.

Signs of Over Managing

Virtually “standing over someone’s shoulder”, asking for frequent updates, offering edits that are simply style preferences not substantive differences; asking to be cc’d on all emails; finding faults; limiting individual creativity and initiative.

Here’s a tip – I have found it very helpful. In your one-on-ones with your direct reports, ask them: “Am I giving you enough information, or too much information?” This is an easy question for an employee to answer. It’s a “gentle” way of letting you know you are too involved. Another tip? Consider a bit of career coaching to get to the root issue and put a plan in place for daily improvements.


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