Are You a Micromanager? How to Tell & What to Do About It
In order to help managers preemptively nip the common tendency to micromanage in the bud, this blog examines how to recognize micromanagement and its effects on your team.
No manager wakes up in the morning and thinks to themselves, “What can I do to micromanage my employees today?” Yet, employees agree that micromanagers are everywhere — 79% of employees say they’ve experienced micromanagement.
A micromanager is a boss who gives “excessive supervision” to employees’ work and processes. Although this method of leadership might be appropriate for some brief work scenarios (like onboarding or training), it leads to burnout and high employee turnover over time.
Most managers aren’t out to punish their teams. But bad management tactics arise when uncertainty, insecurities, and effective communication become compromised. And what manager will never experience the daunting task of leading their team through uncertain, even unprecedented, times? (Looking at you, 2020.)
In order to help managers preemptively nip the common tendency to micromanage in the bud, this blog examines methods to recognize when you’re micromanaging, how to talk with your team about how your management style affects them, and how to stop micromanaging altogether.
Telltale Signs of a Micromanager
Micromanagers are easily identifiable — when you ask employees, that is. Recognizing micromanagement tendencies in yourself as a manager is a whole separate endeavor. It takes humility, openness, and the desire to change. If you don’t have that yet, start there.
Once you're ready to dive in, remember to have patience with yourself. It will take time to work out the underlying beliefs that lead to micromanagement behaviors, and you’ll need your team’s support just as much as they’ll need yours as you try to change.
Common micromanager behaviors
The signs of micromanagement can always be found in the behaviors micromanagers express at work. Although these behaviors might have changed a bit in remote and hybrid work environments, the basic principles remain the same.
You might be a micromanager if you:
Feel frustrated at the methods your employees use to complete tasks
Laser in on details, often derailing meetings to focus on something else entirely
Take great pride in making corrections
Constantly have to know where and what every team member is doing
Delegate how something should be done, not just what needs to be done
Ask to be CC’d on every email
Take over responsibilities originally delegated to others in order to do it better, quicker, etc., even when you don’t have the time for it yourself
Are often dissatisfied with deliverables
At this point you might be saying to yourself, “But I’m just a perfectionist! Wanting something done right isn’t the same as micromanaging. Pushing my team to do even better work will help them grow! And the email thing is just in case!”
And you’re right, to an extent (except for the email part). Helping your team complete tasks successfully is important. However, the best way to help your team grow isn’t to hold their hand every step of the way.
As U.S. Army general George S. Patton said, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
If you’ve identified with any of the behaviors above, it’s time to dig into why you might be doing those things. After all, perfectionism, criticism, and hovering are usually based on fundamental beliefs we have about ourselves as managers.
In fact, typical micromanager behaviors typically have little to do with our employees and more to do with the beliefs we hold about ourselves.
Underlying beliefs that lead to micromanagement
Remember how we said that bad management usually arises during periods of uncertainty? This is because uncertainty often pushes us out of our comfort zone and into uncharted territory, as managers and employees alike. We’re all only human — uncharted means untested. It’s scary and can bring fundamental fears to the surface.
Here are a few of the underlying beliefs that lead to micromanagement behaviors when circumstances push us beyond our control.
1. I’m afraid of failure.
Being so afraid of failure, as a team or as a manager, can lead some managers to constantly check-in, follow along, and dictate how work is to be done — before they’ve even given their employees a chance to prove themselves.
2. Trust is a risk.
Building trust is the key to all relationships, at work or otherwise. Yet, micromanagers are notoriously bad at trusting their employees with tasks, big or small. This has become especially apparent during the rise of remote work.
3. My way is the best way.
Micromanagers believe that their experience and success often proves their method is the best way to go about things. Rather than allow employees to explore, innovate, and test new ways, they “groom” employees to work just like them instead. This limits not only the employee’s potential, but the potential of the entire team.
How Micromanagement Affects Team Unity, Productivity, & Morale
Two of the top circumstances that lead employees to quit their jobs today are being micromanaged and disrespected. In fact, 65% of Americans would choose a new boss over a salary increase.
This is hardly surprising, given that 85% of employees say their morale has been negatively affected by micromanagement. Simply put: Employees don’t want to work where their contributions aren’t valued and where they can’t grow professionally.
If you recognized any micromanagement behaviors and beliefs above, you can be sure your team has had negative experiences because of it. Not only that, but your performance is likely suffering due to your micromanagement behaviors as well.
Here are a few common ways you, and your team, might be affected by your micromanagement:
You are a bottleneck because you’re too involved in everything.
You’re limiting your potential by spending the majority of your time in the weeds, instead of on high-level strategic issues.
You can’t let the small stuff go, which leads to burnout for you and your team.
The good news? There’s an easy way to determine how your micromanagement has affected your team: Ask them about it!
Asking for critical feedback from each team member is a key component for change. Remember the bit about openness and humility earlier? Inviting comments on your management style, actually listening, and then actually incorporating feedback is the first step to ending micromanagement behaviors and keeping yourself honest in the future.
Methods to Stop Micromanaging
Starting down the path away from micromanagement may not be easy, but it is worth it. Here are several methods to help you stop micromanaging.
Become a “Macro” Manager
According to Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton School, one way to stop micromanaging is to take a “macro” approach to management instead.
“What [employees] are looking for is 'macro' management — where someone helps them see the big picture, clarifies the mission, and explains why they are important,” Grant explains. “They also make individual roles clearer, so that I can see a line of sight between my individual job and what the collective goals are."
A macromanagement focus helps managers connect the dots between high-level strategy and individual contributions, and then giving employees the autonomy to complete their piece of the puzzle.
Clarify Your Role & Involvement
If you still need to be “hands on” but don’t want to veer into micromanagement territory, the Harvard Business Review recommends employing the following three methods:
Time your help when employees are ready for it.
Clarify your role as a helper (not an overlord).
Align your involvement with employee’s needs.
This way, you can avoid common micromanaging mistakes like spewing advice before employees are ready to hear it, undermining your employees instead of aiding them, and getting involved before your employees need your help.
Set Goals to Check Yourself Against
For the perfectionistic micromanagers out there, it can be helpful to actually set concrete goals in order to measure your level of micromanagement.
For example, set a perfection scale from 1 to 10 on any given task or project. Then follow up with yourself regularly and ask, am I pushing for a 10 when an 8 is enough?
Similarly, following the 80/20 rule can stop micromanagers in their tracks. Only guide your employee in 20% of cases; leave the other 80% to them and support them only when they ask for your help.
Use a Leadership Development Program
If curbing your micromanagement seems like too much to handle on your own, consider hiring a leadership development partner to guide you through the process. Having an outside partner with experience can provide new insight, goals, and make the process seamless across the whole team.
At Campfire, we help managers become the leaders their team needs. By leading teams through tried and true exercises, we build stronger managers who in turn build stronger teams. Check out our manager essentials track to learn more.
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