Are you a micromanager? How to tell.

Micromanaging! Nobody likes it and most micromanagers don’t even know they’re doing it. When they are aware of it they tend to rationalize it: an important project, a problem employee, etc.

The reality is there are few reasons to micromanage, and it is meant to be done in the short term. Some micromanagers simply need to learn a new style. Perhaps you are new to the job or concerned about making the best impression but taking all the wrong steps. Other micromanagers miss the signs completely. For example, if you’ve fired or replaced employees and still find you still find yourself hovering, you might be a micromanager.

There will always be a moment or a project that has you on edge. A good leader is forgiven for momentary obsessiveness. A micromanager, on the other hand, just gets deeper and deeper into trouble. Employees know when they’re being micromanaged and the effect is low morale and high stress. The micromanager, on the other hand, may not recognize their own micromanaging but can become equally stressed as productivity and quality decreases, reinforcing (to the micromanager) that even more oversight is necessary.

There are ways to determine if you are a micromanager:

You are highly focused on process and steps. The micromanager rarely recognizes that individuals may have their own style. Worse, the work is completed to everyone’s satisfaction but you fixate on the steps followed or not followed. This is an innovation killer.

You dictate instead of delegate. When a micromanager needs to assign some work she goes to great lengths to explain every detail including the verbiage to be used. This is infantilizing and strips the employee of any opportunity to use their own voice and stand out professionally.

You hover and review… and hover and review. You expect to review every action the employee takes. You “check in” or read a report at every step rather than at intervals. At each step of the review you provide superfluous critique that reinforces a rigid process instead of providing useful guidance to help your employee learn and grow.

You are bothered when your employees don’t approach a project exactly the way you would. Acts of individuality or creativity make you see ways you’d do it differently, and why your way is the right way. You’re even more disturbed if the employee modifies or skips an unnecessary step.

Interrupting the process or admonishing employees will only alienate them. Worse, it creates a belief that no matter what your team does, it’s never enough or right.

Case study: A micromanager at a medium sized regional hospital. This manager couldn’t understand why her employees kept quitting on her. She was fairly busy and hired only capable and well qualified employees. What she could never grasp was that her micromanaging was so suffocating that none of her employees could stick around more than a few months.

When she asked for project or consumer updates, a simple “It’s going well,” or ” We’re moving along. I may need some guidance down the road,” would not suffice. She required an entire recitation of all engagements, point by point, word for word. Then she would comment on all of the points, necessary or not. She would hover while her employees wrote up reports or filled out documentation then snatch it from the employee to read and comment on it. Regardless of how well it all went, there was always a critique when any employee showed initiative or didn’t use her specific verbal script.

This manager was also fixated on following steps. When an employee covered all the steps required but did them out of order this manager became visibly agitated and would kindly recommend following the steps in the order in which they were written (not necessary in most instances). There was never any animosity in these interactions but at no point was she able to provide valuable guidance that would enhance her employees career or future prospects. So stuck was she on process and rules that she was unable to recognize outstanding completed work, nor was she able to accept when an employee went the extra mile to ensure quality patient services. In one instance an employee was kindly reminded that it wasn’t his job when he did something that was not spelled out in a written request. This reminder came in the form of the micromanager sitting at his desk with the “rule book” opened and the manager reading aloud that section of the employees responsibilities. This employee was not sticking around much longer and it was precisely in that moment that he made the decision.

All of this oversight also extended the managers workday by one to two hours. The micromanager, of course, was completely clueless. This is the curse of micromanaging and it has an overall negative impact on the manager, the results, and the employee.

Management courses are a great start and to change some of these behaviors. Identifying the core belief system and modifying it can help create long term authentic change. Self awareness is the first step. The healthcare manager had zero self awareness. Unfortunately, she also refused to listen to constructive criticism, and instead, took umbrage with any feedback directly addressing her style and its impact. By all accounts, she’s still cycling through employees every few months and completely baffled as to why.




This article also appears on Huffington Post