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Micromanagers want to control every aspect of their employees’ work, down to the smallest detail. They insist on being consulted about every decision, even ones well within the scope of the employee’s responsibility and authority. If you ask them, micromanagers will tell you they’re simply detail-oriented; they care so much about quality they feel compelled to step in to make sure everything is done right. They’re also delusional.
I suspect micromanagers are made, not born. Somewhere along the line, they probably got burned by a project that didn’t go well. They didn’t pay enough attention, or they trusted the wrong person. Now, they trust no one. They may also simply like the work you’re doing better than the work they’re tasked with doing. Perhaps they never wanted to be promoted to management when they were perfectly happy obsessing over the details of their own work. Maybe it’s the fear of failing at this level that drives them to become neurotic and controlling.
Whatever the cause, the effect is always the same: their best staff members start plotting to kill them.
In the interest of saving lives, here are some coping methods if you work for or with a micromanager.
If you plan to try to change their behavior, first determine if they’re self-aware enough to change. Tasha Eurich, author of Insight: The Surprising Truth About How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More Than We Think, suggests you ask yourself these three questions: Does he know there’s a problem? Is his behavior counter to his best interests? And finally, Do I think he will listen to me?
If he’s completely oblivious to the problem and probably won’t listen to you, chances are you won’t be able to change him. Eurich calls people like these “Lost Causes.” They don’t recognize that people are unhappy with their behavior, and even when they get clear and direct feedback about how they make people feel, they don’t believe it. “She’s just jealous of my success.” “He’s ungrateful for my mentoring.” “I’m just doing what anybody would in my place.”
There are some people who know their behavior is a problem, but they still think the end justifies the means. Eurichh calls these “Aware but don’t Care.” They minimize or dismiss concerns, confident that they know best. “Yes, Joe hates it when I insist on reviewing every email before he sends it to the regional manager, but he’d hate it more if we got called on the carpet for saying the wrong thing.”
The only people you have a prayer of changing are those Eurich calls “nudgeables.” They vaguely understand that there’s a problem, but they can’t interpret the signals they’re receiving. Eurich recalls her very first solo drive after dark as a 16-year-old new driver. All the way home, drivers in the opposite lane were blinking their headlights at her. Why is everybody doing that? She wondered.
She writes: “As soon as I made it home and pulled into the driveway, my mother burst out of the garage, frantically waving at me to turn off my brights, ‘Honey, you’re blinding the entire neighborhood!’ All of a sudden it made sense. Completely unbeknownst to me, I had been shining my brights directly at Denver drivers for miles—and what’s more, they’d all been trying to tell me as much. I just couldn’t, quite literally, read the signals I was getting.” Nudgables may need nudges from several sources before they see the light (metaphorically) but there is hope they can change.
What if your micromanager can’t or won’t change? In a future post, I’ll discuss how to make life bearable when you work for a micromanager.