Seven Strategies to Manage a Micro-Manager

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The horror stories of a micro-managing boss are a plenty, but there haven’t always been great strategies to manage the micro-manager, but here are a few.

Today’s post is by Victor Prince, a principal here at thoughtLEADERS.

If you work long enough, you will have a micro-managing boss. They think they know your job better than you do. Maybe they had your job before they got promoted to management. They focus on how you do your job instead of on the results you produce. They think that because you are doing your job differently than they would, you must be doing it incorrectly. Micro-management is a big driver of dissatisfaction and attrition in the workplace.

Here are 7 strategies to manage a micromanaging manager. 

Diagnose the Situation – Is your boss micro-managing others or just you? It is important to understand whether you are being singled out or if you are just one of many victims. If they micro-manage others too, it’s probably them, not you. But if you are the only one being micro-managed, it might be you and it is worth figuring out why. Perhaps your boss is just more interested in your job than others. Or perhaps, they think you need closer scrutiny. If your boss’s micro-management is due to problems with your performance, you need to surface that discussion with them and address that head on.

Channel their Energy – There is good news with having a micro-managing boss – they are highly engaged and interested in your work. Your manager’s engagement can be an asset for you if you channel that energy the right way. Focus them on providing air cover and clearing obstacles that would help you get your job done. Ask for their help getting resources and building the relationships that will help you do your job. Preempt and target their nit-picking by asking them for their advice on the parts of your job where you would like to learn from them.

Focus on the Future – Shift the conversations with your manager from reviewing what you have done in the past to talking about what you plan to do in the future. Get their feedback ahead of time, when it will be most useful. Who knows – your boss might even have some useful insights. You will also get their buy-in to your plans because you got their input early on. These conversations are naturally less uncomfortable too, since the mood will be more about brainstorming the future together instead of sitting through an audit of your past.

Build Trust through Transparency – Micro-managers are eventually going to ask for every detail in your work, especially looking for the mistakes and bad news. Get ahead of the curve by keeping them informed of the biggest risks you see in your work. That not only gives them a chance to give their advice, it also makes them share that risk with you. Micro-managers fear bad surprises. If you can convince them that they are not going to get blindsided from you, they might decrease their micro-management of you.

Demand Feedback – It’s their job as a boss and it’s your right as a team member. Ask your micro-manager for frequent feedback. They are going to share their feedback eventually, so it is best for you to get it real time so you can act on it. You don’t want to see constructive feedback for the first time on your formal performance review at the end of the year. Take control of your regular check-in meetings with your manager to ask for feedback. Use your annual goals and your expected job competencies as agenda items to keep the conversation focused. Ask them how are you doing against each of them.

Get Help – An executive coach or mentor can be a great resource to help you deal with a micro-manager. They can be a sounding board to help you identify the underlying issues with your boss. They can be a brainstorming partner to find strategies to fix them. Sometimes, they can just be a sympathetic ear to let you vent off frustration. Having a non-judging, independent listener in your corner can be refreshing when dealing with a nit-picky boss.

Build Your Brand – Unfortunately, your situation with a micro-manager boss may not change. Some micro-managers just cannot help themselves. If they don’t move on, maybe you need to. Ideally you can find new opportunities in your existing organization. Treat every interaction with other leaders in your organization as a chance to impress them. They can become helpful advocates for you if they are in annual review meetings where your performance is compared with your peers. Perhaps they might even recruit you for their team.

Having a micro-manager is a frustrating rite of passage for many people in the workplace. The most important lesson you can take from that experience is learning what micro-managing looks like and how it makes people feel. That way, you will avoid becoming a micro-manager yourself when you lead people.

Victor PrinceVictor Prince is a Principal with thoughtLEADERS. He specializes in teaching Structured Thought: Problem Solving and Structured Thought and Communications. He is a former Bain & Company consultant, who was also a marketing executive with Capital One and the Chief Operating Officer of the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He has an MBA in Finance from Wharton.

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