How to Avoid Becoming That Micromanaging Boss You Can't Stand
Career Growth

How to Avoid Becoming That Micromanaging Boss You Can't Stand

This article is part of our First-time Manager series. 

YOU (LIKE EVERYONE ELSE) HATE BEING MICROMANAGED, BUT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU’RE IN CHARGE? HERE’S HOW TO PREVENT YOURSELF FROM BECOMING THAT BOSS YOU CAN'T STAND.   

Most professionals take issue with supervisors that are too controlling and involved, a management style widely known as “micromanagement.” In fact, a Google search for “how to deal with a micromanaging boss” brings up almost 85,000 results! Regardless of company or industry, we seem to all agree: they get on our nerves. 

So what's the big deal? We all have to deal with an annoying colleague occasionally, right? For one thing, employees who have to report to micromanagers report lower professional self-esteem, feel less capable of completing core job tasks, and are less likely to move up or get promoted. For professional women, who already are losing professional ambition because of work-based obstacles, these negatives add up to a major issue.

Clearly, we all agree that this management style is toxic in many ways. But, unfortunately, once employees themselves become the leaders, it can be easy for them to adopt micromanaging behaviors. While micromanagement might be a good idea in the short term because it helps get things done, Harvard Business Review says that long-term micromanagement not only hurts individual employees by limiting the amount they accomplish, but also stunts long-term business growth.

"I just care about the details."

Do you want to become the type of control freak you resent? Didn't think so. Here’s how to avoid one of the most common (and obnoxious) tendencies of first-time managers. (Hint: it’s all about being aware and honest). 

RECOGNIZE YOU HAVE A PROBLEM (AND STOP LYING TO YOURSELF ABOUT IT)

While micromanaging has emotional and psychological characteristics, it also has very clear behavioral signs. These include:

  • Expecting to be copied on all emails
  • Not allowing mid-level members of your team to directly manage employees who are more junior than them (this is called a “one level org chart”)
  • Reviewing all work/deliverables, even for small-scale projects
  • Asking questions about tactical details 
  • Not including your direct reports in conversations that are relevant to their role or responsibilities

Even when managers recognize that they do some, or all, of these actions, they often make excuses for it. One of the ways they justify excessive meddling is by convincing themselves that certain micromanaging behaviors are actually positive traits. A few common ones:

  • “I just care about the details”
  • “If I don’t get involved, we won’t be successful.”
  • “My boss really wants me to stay actively involved.”
  • “This project is too important to be hands-off.” 

While these statements may seem normal or innocent, it’s important to recognize that they are attempts to gloss over basic micromanaging tendencies—so if you find yourself saying them, take a step back and recognize the path you’re heading down.

“This project is too important to be hands-off.” 

UNDERSTAND WHY YOU WANT TO CONTROL, THEN LOOK FOR GOOD REASONS TO LET GO

Once you have recognized the actions and excuses that are causing you to slip into, and justify, micromanager mode, it's time to dig a little deeper. Ask yourself why it is that you need to be so “hands on” with your employees. 9 times out of 10, your need to micromanage has roots in your own fears, concerns, or anxieties.

Perhaps you fear that if a project led by your team is not successful that you will be blamed. Or maybe you believe that if your employees handle everything they’re assigned, there will be nothing left for you to do to prove your worth. In both cases, you're assessing your value as a professional solely on what your employees do.

“If I don’t get involved, we won’t be successful.”

So, once you recognize that those fears exist, how do you get past them? Here are three ways to realign your approach:

  1. Remember that the better your team performs, the better you look. While it can be scary to release control, it is scientifically proven that employees perform better when they are given direction but not micromanaged. So let go, and let the accolades pour in!
  2. Establish better bonds with your employees. When people feel that you trust and respect them, they are more likely to share with you, whether it’s a success or a mistake they’ve made. Ironically, the more you make an effort to empower them, the more they will rely on you for guidance and support.
  3. Focus on improving your long-term people management skills. It’s certainly normal to be scared of leading others, especially when you don’t have a lot of experience, but there are lots of resources and great tips for first-time managers

And, as you put these new behaviors into practice, there are still ways to check on our your team’s performance without hovering or being too intrusive. 

For example, you can check in with the heads of other groups and ask for their assessment of how things are going. You can also meet with your team weekly and ask them to provide a Stop, Start, Continue report—this will let you know which things are working and which things genuinely do require your attention.

REMEMBER HOW YOU FELT WHEN YOU WERE MICROMANAGED

Sometimes, the absolute best way to avoid acting a certain way is by following the professional Golden Rule: treat others how you’d want to be treated. When you find yourself tempted to act, or already acting, like a micromanager, remember the negative feelings you had when your boss behaved that way. 

In fact, putting yourself back in the position of a direct report who felt stifled, controlled and/or discouraged may be all it takes to stop yourself—and give your employees the breathing room they need to grow, and help the company be successful.

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How do you avoid becoming a professional control freak?