Managing the Micromanager
We’ve probably all come across at least one in our time – the micromanager who hovers over your shoulder, checking every little thing you do and telling you how they would have done it. Or delegating a task but then asking every 10 minutes how you are getting on.
It’s a real source of frustration for the team and an inefficient way of working for the manager concerned. So why does it happen? It can be a challenge to get a micromanager to loosen their grip, and to do so, you need to understand what is behind their behaviour. If you ask such a person about their style, they will often say that they don’t trust their team to deliver, but sometimes you need to dig a bit deeper to get to the real reason.
They don’t know any different
People are often promoted from a more junior role where they have excelled but are given no training or coaching on how to step up their new position. We’ve seen this happen a lot in sales. The top-performing salesperson is promoted to be a sales manager. Or in computing, a fantastic programmer is made head of IT. Overnight, they need a whole new set of skills. Instead of working on their own to meet their individual target, they have to motivate a team to do it for them. Their objectives are suddenly met through other people. Unless they are supported in gaining the skills they need, it’s unlikely they will ever be a successful manager. If this goes on for some while, the behaviours they default to become ingrained and harder to change.
The way to handle this type of manager is to assess where they have gaps in their knowledge or skills and develop a training or coaching programme to support them. By making sure they understand the differences in their new role and identifying where they need help, you can start to bring about a change in style. It’s key that they understand that delegation frees them up to do what you really need them to focus on.
They are afraid of failing
When some people micromanage they are implicitly saying “I’m scared that I’m going to fail.” The manager has insecurities about their own performance, or about the way they are viewed in the organisation. Letting go of control can be frightening, and if you have a manager like this, you need to find out what will make them feel safe. If you think about that top performer who has been promoted, they were number one in their individual role. Now they’re managing a group of people who weren’t as good as they were. And worse, their reputation depends on the performance of these ‘not so good’ people.
Working with them to define what success on a project looks like, and giving clear guidance on the areas that need addressing are ways to help this type of person. Positive feedback when they’ve done well and constructive criticism with guidance on what could be done better it things don’t go so well are important. Asking for their input to show that their contributions are valued, and letting them know you will support their decisions even if you don’t agree with them will all help to grow their confidence in their own judgements.
They need to be seen as experts
Research shows that the biggest reason for micromanaging is the need to be seen as an authority figure. More than 5000 leaders took this online test “Are You Motivated By Power Or Achievement?”, and the results showed that 41% of managers have a very strong desire for power. This drive, used positively, can be a good thing. But if the manager has a team that works well on their own, with no seeming use for their expertise, they can end up feeling superfluous and start interfering to somehow prove their worth.
In such circumstances, because they want to demonstrate their expertise, they start hovering, looking for opportunities to pick up faults, solve issues and generally remind everybody what a guru they are. Or they interfere with the project, demanding unreasonable updates, hoping they can spot some challenge that they can use their knowledge to solve.
Good managers understand that if they keep growing and developing in line with their team, they will always be needed. Personal growth is the solution to this type of micromanager, and it’s an approach that taps directly into their need by growing their expertise.
Every company has their micromanagers, but they are salvageable. Understand what is driving their behaviour, and you will have more success in coming up with a plan to tackle the issue.
Have you had to deal with micromanagers in your organisation? How did you resolve the problem? We’d love to hear from you.