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How to Spot a Micro-Manager & Not be One

Nov 23, 2021 08:27 PM
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Starting a new job comes with a certain level of pressure - some self-imposed and the rest because you need to deliver and contribute toward meeting the aims your boss or team has set. It's normal to feel "all the feels" that come with plugging away at a new role, within a new company, and to do everything you can to manage and meet expectations within the organization. Good things come to those who work hard (and are nice to people) but there is a fine line between having a drive for success and micro-managing others' work to get what you want out of them. 

Yes, the flip side of managing yourself, is when you start managing others - and that is an entirely different tune. Sometimes, people who've come up through the ranks, working long hours and "micro-managing themselves" to ensure success, get promoted and suddenly their working style is applied to the people around them. Uh oh! Now what!? While it's okay to manage people, it's a true artform perfected only through time, and the fall-back all-too-often is that these individuals, striving and worried about meeting deadlines and gains, become what's known, unlovingly, as "micro-managers". This is, essentially, the work version of a "helicopter parent" and it's not pretty.

How to spot a micro-manager:

  • They have very detailed forms of communication and organization that they lure you into following, even when you've been tasked with a project and the process they use isn't how you'd go about doing your best work. (Hint: they probably didn't even ask you what works best for you, in fear they lose some control over the outcome - and you!)
  • They constantly check in on your work and progress, popping up from behind cubicles, desks, suddenly peeping out of offices you didn't realize they were in, messaging you throughout the day, and emailing you reminders about due dates. (Ah!)
  • They repeat themselves, even when you've heard them the first time, use detached tones, and leave no wiggle room for creativity that goes against their initial concept. For example, they may use expressions like, "With all due respect," or "Good idea, but this sounds like a 'make-work project'" a lot.
  • They talk a whole lot in meetings, often leaving very little room for anyone else in the forum to get a word in. When someone else speaks, they find a way to shut it down and move back to what they were saying.
  • They run hot and cold because they are worried that maintaining a consistent positive dynamic won't equate to the base level of anxiety from you that they feel supports their positioning and stature within the organization

Now, clearly, that list is tongue-in-cheek, but, sadly, much of it can be true when you're dealing with a micro-manager - an individual who gives excessive supervision to employees. If you're lucky enough to have a long career (and we know you will), you will either come across one or verge on becoming one (it's easier than you think). Because we can't prevent you from crossing paths with a micro-manager, here's a list of things that you can do NOT to be one!

  • Hold group brainstorming sessions for large projects that require innovation and make sure everyone on your team gets a chance to speak, feel heard, and contribute. Applaud their ideas, and encourage or elaborate on their thoughts to push good thinking further and elevate the potential of those around you.
  • Empower your team members to use platforms and tools that work best for their organization or work style, and then try to work around how they work best.
  • Set check-in times periodically, and save your questions about an individual's work or progress for those meetings so that you're not always reaching out or pushing them for updates.
  • Work alongside, don't oversee. This means asking for feedback on how you can do things better for your team and being open to your own imperfection to adapt to meet your team with what they need for success.
  • Use "we" not "I' language when speaking of successes or wins. No human being is an island, and no achievement is due to the input of solely one individual. Spread awareness within your organization about the excellent work of those behind each project - when you manage, it's not about you, ever, really.

All in all, micro-managers are usually coming from a good place. They are Type A or "high achievers" who just want things to go well! But, unfortunately, their approach is, honestly, entirely unnecessary and brutal on team members. If you so happen to spot a micro-manager on your team, don't run; maybe try to manage up and help them understand how you work better rather than passively allowing them to guide you in a direction that negatively impacts how you feel about work or get the job done.

But, how you handle it is up to you! We don't want to micro-manage...