How To Deal With A Micromanager Without Killing Yourself First

Your Micro Manager Donkey There’s probably nothing more annoying for an experienced person than to be micromanaged. I’m sure someone who is new to work finds being micromanaged just as annoying, but at least the boss has a good excuse. The novice could really mess things up without proper supervision.

Out of roughly 100 people I spoke to who were interested in leaving their jobs or had already left their jobs when conducting research for my book, roughly 70% of them said the main reason why they wanted to leave or did leave their jobs was because of a difficult boss. The boss was either unfair, unpleasant, uninspiring, or a micromanager.

When a boss micromanages an employee they effectively do three things:

1) Undermines

2) Demotivates

3) Creates self-doubt

In other words, micromanagers are horrendous bosses who will likely lose all of their employees over time.

One reader wrote in,

“Sam, I’m dying here! My firm recently hired this hotshot 30-year old MBA graduate who thinks he knows everything. He used to work in recruiting before getting his degree and this is his first job working for a tech firm. I’m 34 years old and have been working here for five years. Recently, he’s been on my ass about checking all my work, telling me how to do my work, and asking me every time I leave my desk for more than 30 minutes. I can’t even take a dump in peace out of fear he’ll start questioning my whereabouts! I’ve got way more experience than him, yet he gives me no respect. What do you recommend I do?!”

Meet him in the garage after work and deal with the situation like a man by kicking his ass! Was my initial thought. Anybody who shows no respect for their elders should be taught a lesson. But of course, we’re not living during the time of honor. We’re living in the time of “what have you done for me lately”.

I truly empathize with the reader because losing autonomy was one of the main reasons why I left my job. When you’ve got plenty of other means to make a living, working for a micromanager is NOT WORTH IT. But for those of you who have no way out yet, this post will discuss strategies on how to deal with micromanagers so you no longer have to feel miserable coming into work.

WHY DO BOSSES MICROMANAGE?

It’s very easy to just be bitter about someone who makes your life hell, but if we can better understand WHY your boss is a micromanager, we’ll feel better about ourselves and be much more adept in handling the micromanagement situation. Here are five reasons why your boss is a micromanager:

1) Inexperienced or fundamentally insecure. Every single micromanagement incident I’ve experienced is due to the fact that the boss is relatively new to his or her role. With inexperience comes insecurity because there is a need for the boss to understand every single thing the employee is doing in order to sleep better at night. As is the case with the reader above, his boss is a fresh MBA graduate who is under intense pressure to prove to his bosses he is the right person for the job. Because the new MBA graduate doesn’t know jack about the industry, he is micromanaging in order to better understand what to do. The more experienced the boss is, the calmer she is because she’ll have seen similar situations before and know what to do.

2) General neurotic tendencies. If your boss suffers from OCD, she may have a higher tendency of being a micromanager. There is simply a chemical imbalance that prevents her from trusting others or trusting a situation thoroughly. There is also a high correlation with insomniacs and micromanagers. Insomniacs can’t stop thinking about things which worry them so much they can’t sleep. If your boss has neurotic tendencies, then there’s unfortunately less you can do to help fix the situation because it’s up to your boss to fix her own situation.

3) High performers. In order to be the boss, you usually have to be a high performer in your field. But the problem is that companies too often promote high performers who aren’t great bosses. I see this situation happen all the time with the promotion of top tier sales people into managerial roles. There is a different skill-set involved in becoming a good boss. High performers expect everybody else to match their performance even though everybody has a different way of doing things.

4) Not busy enough. If your boss has nothing better to do, then s/he’ll will often try and make work for themselves and for you. One time I had this boss in NYC who called me about a $35 client lunch bill. I regularly took out this senior client to a local Malaysian lunch and he was calling me from NYC for this tiny bill when he supposedly had 50+ people to manage. What a joke! Especially since our per head entertainment budget is $200. This boss was fired a year later. When bosses are underperforming at their own jobs, they tend to ratchet up the micromanaging. Beware.

5) You’re simply messing up. If you were doing your job “perfectly” you would be micromanaged less. The issue is, the definition of “perfect” might be different between you two. Take time to understand exactly how your manager likes things to be done and write them down.

HOW TO DEAL WITH A MICROMANAGER

Now that we can better empathize with the micromanager, here are four simple solutions on how to make the situation better.

1) Defer and let them do your work. This is called the “judo move” where you simply use your boss’s force to help you win. Bosses feel better about themselves after they micromanage, so you might as well let them do your work to perfection for you. Thank them for their guidance and let them feed their OCD. I noticed this boss who kept saying she didn’t want to encroach on another colleague’s work, but continued to encroach anyway. It was the strangest thing. My colleague simply deferred everything to her boss by letting her do the work for her. All was good and my colleague was able to stress less, do less work, and still get paid the same.

2) Lower your manager’s expectations. If you can adeptly play dumb and demonstrate you know enough to not get fired, but don’t know as much as you really do, then your micromanager will slowly accept your new lower standard. It’s when you over-deliver on a low hurdle where the micromanager will suddenly start thinking to themselves, “Wow, Tom is doing a great job!” and slowly leave you alone. Definitely clarify exactly what your manager wants so you can come close to giving them exactly what they need.

3) Help them get busy. If you can help your boss get more work and be better at her job, then you are helping yourself because she’ll be too busy to micromanage you. If my boss in NYC actually had something to do, there’s no way he’d bother grilling me on a $35 client lunch bill. Promote your boss to other senior people so that not only do you look good, your boss looks good so s/he can be distracted by other things. Think about a burglar throwing a juicy t-bone steak at the German Shepard watchdog in order to break in.

4) Build trust. What’s most disappointing about a micromanager is that despite your experience and demonstration that you are an outstanding citizen, they still don’t trust you to do your work. If someone doesn’t trust you, that’s a personal insult if you are a trustworthy person. No wonder why the large majority of people who want to quit their jobs cite problem bosses as the #1 reason. Please read how to get paid and promoted faster to develop a better relationship with your boss.

IF YOU ARE A MICROMANAGER

Perhaps you’re reading this post and realize you’re a micromanager. The first step to fixing a problem is recognizing you have a problem. Congratulations! Instead of beating yourself for being a horrible, neurotic, untrusting person who makes other people miserable, look to fix your mistakes.

1) Spend time knowing what drives your employees. Money is seldom the #1 reason why employees quit. You are or a lack of recognition. Hence, it’s important to sit down with your employees who you think need micromanaging and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Develop not only a professional bond, but a personal bond on some level. Maybe you share a love for travel, dogs, cats, or sports. Find that common link because once your employee feels that connection, they will ultimately do a much better job because they care for you professionally and personally.

2) Incentivize with a sandwich. The delivery of criticism is very important. I suggest using the sandwich method where you first recognize them for parts where they did well, offer areas for improvement, and then finish off with more recognition of another part well done. Nobody is going to feel motivated if all they hear is criticism. You must constantly recognize your employee’s efforts for them to want to give you even more effort. Send out a group e-mail highlighting their efforts. Praise them during the next group meeting. Take them out to lunch. Pat them on the back and simply say, “good work.” Encouragement goes a long way and it’s free.

3) Establish consistent checkpoints. Instead of being on your employee’s ass every day, simply establish a once a week 30 minute check-in to see how your employee is doing. Use this meeting time to thoroughly understand the issues and go through point #2, and do your best to stop micromanaging until this next meeting. Make it clear that if your employee needs help that they should come to you.

IF ALL ELSE FAILS

Bosses who micromanage are like zombies in The Walking Dead. They might be curable, but it takes patience and understanding because they are often blind to their actions. The best bosses in the world recognize your strengths, puts you in a position to utilize your strengths, and checks in every once in a while to see if you need help. Too bad there aren’t more classes to help teach new managers better managerial skills.

If you can’t get your boss to stop micromanaging everything you do, then you must figure out a way to get the hell out of there. Your micromanager is a plague who will infect everybody eventually or get fired himself. Take matters into your own hands before it’s too late.

Who here has been micromanaged? Why do you think your boss is or was a micromanager? How did you deal with your micromanager? Why do you think micromanagers don’t realize how bad they crush morale? Are you a micromanager? If so, what’s wrong with you?

Regards,

Sam

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

You can sign up to receive his articles via email or by RSS. Sam also sends out a private quarterly newsletter with information on where he's investing his money and more sensitive information.

Subscribe To Private Newsletter

Comments

  1. says

    A lot of useful information here.
    I think the first thing one needs to do is to take an honest evaluation of their performance. Are they doing a good job? Chances are they are being micromanaged for a reason.
    After that, I would set up a time with my boss to ask how I’m doing and how I can improve.

  2. Ravi says

    I’ve had the opposite sort of issue. A micromanaging senior mgr who wanted work done in a very particular way, however, he didn’t say that up front. Only after it had gone from me to the senior associate to him, did he come back with a barrage of questions and comments.

    It wasted a ton of time since he sparsely gave much constructive help up front, even when asked, and then proceeded to tear apart our analysis on the back end. Needless to say, I just had to deal while on one of his projects and eventually left the firm (not just because of him, but that was a big plus).

    I haven’t had a micromanaging boss yet, but wow that would really annoy me. I have pretty thick skin, so as long as I understand what they want and they know what they want, I can deal. For me, a “after the fact nit picker” as I described is 10x worse in my opinion.

      • Ravi says

        Trouble was, he tended to give insufficient detail when asked directly anyway. Seemed like he didn’t really think about it until it was done and in his inbox.

        Some people just aren’t easy to deal with…

  3. says

    I don’t think I ever experienced a micromanager. Probably, no one wanted my (CFO) job! I like your suggestion of establishing checkpoints. I used to meet with my staff as a group or individually to find out their progress weekly. I would also try to teach the manager how to manage. The execution may be more difficult than anything, but the alternative is quitting. I think it is more admirable to try to fix it before leaving.

  4. says

    I had a terrible boss that was a micromanager. He was just a perfectionist at heart so if something didn’t work exactly how he expected (even if it produced the same result) he would flip out. He really knew what he was doing but he just couldn’t accept things not being done his way.

    I put up with it for too long honestly, and when I was sick of it and I knew he couldn’t fire me I just stopped caring. I know this wasn’t the best solution but I just mentally turned off in my head when he would start complaining about something. The final solution was to point out to upper management how he had created a horrible work environment (using threats of losing our jobs to motivate) and having us work extra hours and not paying us for overtime. In the end I was paid for all the overtime I did (there was a ticketing system that logged when I was actually at work so I knew exactly when I was still working) and then I quit and found a new job.

    When I left I talked to my coworkers more openly since I already knew I was leaving. I knew a lot of them were looking for new jobs. I’m sure if people keep leaving, and now that upper management had a serious complaint that could have easily resulted in a lawsuit, they will eventually catch on that he’s is the problem with that department.

  5. Tom @ financeandFlipFlops says

    Personally i haven’t really dealt with micro managers, but my fiancé had to deal with one for over a year. The really messed up part is that technically she was more qualified than her manager. Ultimately she left because she felt like a child – it was so bad that she was typically told when she could leave work.

  6. says

    I can be a perfectionist, so I have to consciously work to make sure I’m not micromanaging my team members. It’s important to realize that there is no way to scale if you are micromanaging – you will limit the amount if work that gets done. Which defeats the point of hiring employees!

    • Adam says

      I agree with you. My boss and I have been friends for years although he is a few years older than me. He was extremely lucky to get picked into a VP position with a well regarded PE backed startup a few years ago. As they grew and started up a second company backed the same PE he asked me if I would come to work there. Now I think that that may have been a mistake. He reviews everything that I and our attorneys do. There is effectively zero autonomy. I just threw in the towel. There is no reason for me to work on something if it will be redone.

      As the article mentions, I think what we have here is a case of someone who is fairly young and lacks managerial skills. In addition, he has equity in the company and is puckered up. As one of my friends put it: “he’s still trying to prove himself”. I’ve just relinquished. They’re paying me a great salary and when he tells me to make a change in an important document that I know is a grammatical error I just do it anyway. I don’t care. The first and fifteenth are all I am motivated to care about.

        • Adam says

          I can’t deduce your inference. I assume you mean engineering a layoff. Because of our structure were not built to last we’re built to IPO or sell out in a certain time frame. Either way, this mgmt team has a history of making it worth your while and were 1-3 years away from one of those two exits.

          The social proximity, to both my boss and mgmt team, makes any other option less palatible.

  7. says

    Very useful and timely info as I have recently received a promotion and am starting to realize one of the guys I have to be working with more is probably a micromanager. Thankfully he’s not my boss so it won’t drive me TOO crazy. Will have to refer back to this post from time to time.

  8. says

    I’m with you Sam, there is nothing more demotivating than a micromanager. It takes away a lot of the motivation to go above an beyond because everything is criticized in utmost detail. It also feels terrible to have someone tell you what to do, especially when you’re completely aware of the steps that need to be taken.

    I find a couple of bad bosses can quickly ruin an office/company.

  9. says

    I’ve luckily moved on from my previous micromanager boss, and wish I had this post around a few years ago! The judo throw of outsourcing your work to your boss is pretty genius. I can see how, on some level, the micromanager WANTS to do the work himself or herself. If you can find a way to make that happen, it really is a win win.

  10. says

    Ugh! I hate micromanaging. I have resolved never to work for someone like that agin. It is too stressful and they usually breathe down your back for every little thing. No thank you!

  11. says

    Micromanaging is exhausting and incredible inefficient. The only time it can be appropriate is if you have an employee who is struggling with performance issues. In those cases you have to keep a close eye to catch errors before clients do. Once you work out the issues and gain trust, then you can step back.

    • says

      Must be exhausting indeed. One strategy I guess is to just wait it out until the manager is too exhausted to micromanage. But of course during this time, you should be open with what is being delivered and meet expectations.

  12. David Michael says

    Sam…a great observation and article about the realities of business, leadership, and relationship. This is really a complex issue that few people understand. We are quick to go into judgment and finger pointing without knowing the depth of complex issues involved.

    I can identify with it because, evidently as the owner and manager of a small business, I became a micromanager without my even knowing it…until several employees gave me the truth, in spades, with a written letter. I was devastated, hurt, bewildered, and confused as I had put a notable sum of money at risk to make our company profitable. And, yes! I was insecure and not trustful especially of some new employees.

    It was not until I went to a series of seminars and workshops on relationship building and leadership skills that I found out what was happening. The final workshop that blew my mind was called “Personality Styles” and lasted for two entire weekends. Although most human beings are an amalgam of four or more personality styles that tend to give us a balance (analyst, promoter, supporter, and controller), when we are stressed out one or more styles come out in spades. Whether it is at the office or at home with our employees, spouse or kids, our survival personality comes through when it’s stress time.

    Example is that my father was an alcoholic for 20 years and I learned to survive by taking control of my own world. I transferred that control over my new employees whom I did not know or trust sufficiently, worried about their results and bottom line. Also a key point here…if we do not know about personality styles and their effect upon us in our work or relationship world, we tend to hire employees like us (unconsciously) or date people like us. Thus, I hired lots of other controllers which ended up in an office battleground environment within a year or two. Once I understood what was happening, I totally changed my methods of hiring and working with employees. And, I started to hire a totally different group of people.

    In addition, I often dated other controllers which made my life miserable. My first wife was like marrying my mother, who was also a super controller (imago match). It’s an opportunity to rework the unfinished business of early parental relationships. Of course much comes from the unconscious as we need to work out the solutions. Once I understood the process and worked out unfinished needs through transformational workshops in the Bay area, my whole life changed both in the work environment as well as with romantic relationships. Divorce is a symptom not a solution. That’s why many people have two, three or four divorces before they get help and work out the underlying problems which are unique to each individual. I finally got it that I needed to add supporters in my life. My whole world changed within two years and became a foundation for the next 40 years. Nothing is quite as easy or simple as it seems.

    • says

      Wow David, thanks so much for sharing your perspective. What you say makes a lot of sense. I must imagine it is MORE difficult NOT to micromanage if you started the company and put a lot of money and sweat into it.

      I don’t know how many of us take the Meyers Brigg exam or other personality exams to understand how we are. A house and workplace full of one type of folk, especially “controllers” must be very, very difficult.

      Glad things are better now!

  13. says

    One thing that I see a lot is someone becoming a manager for the first time with no experience managing other people. For some reason they think their role as a manager is to yell at the people under them and be strict and an enforcer. They also think one of the perks of being a manager is that they can sit in the office and not do anything. They fail to realize that we are all a team and he should be building up his employees rather than trying to chop them down.

  14. Jeff says

    One of my first jobs was with a micromanager for a boss. It made me pretty miserable most of the time. One thing about this post is that really got me is how micromanaging can make you doubt yourself. It got so bad that I felt I couldn’t do anything without running it by my boss first. Talk about indecision!

    The ironic thing is that outside of work I really liked her. She was a very caring person who I enjoyed talking with. It was just working with her that was the problem.

    There is a good ending to this story though. The micromanaging got so bad that I had to look for another job. I eventually moved to another position within the organization that worked with the education field. I discovered that I love the education field and it has basically designed my career since! I don’t think I would have discovered my love for education with out my micromananging boss. So, in this case, all’s well that ends well!

  15. MD says

    This post really hit home for me. I am currently working for a micromanager who is so bad that I honestly think he is unstable. He has to offer “suggestions” on everything, changes direction constantly, goes to other divisions not related to ours and comes back with ideas that are not relevant, talks up a storm in meetings with clients saying things that have no relevance and continually tries to trip you up with gotcha questions. The questions have no relevance either. He also likes to take a very minor issue and blow it out of proportion.

    I was on the West Coast a couple of weeks back with him for some client meetings. They were great meetings when I could get him to shut up. I know what I am doing. I let the client talk. On the last day, we were in San Fran and I didn’t get gas before returning it to the rental car agency. The difference was $5.25 (I confirmed that). He actually yelled at me in public. I offered to pay him the money but he ignored me on that. Very odd. Most have issues with him. He has yelled at me in public several times. I am 48 years and have had significant accomplishments with the firm. Ironically, all his swirl seems to have cost his boss his job. A long story and I don’t think he learned a thing from it.

    However, I am only 2 years away from qualifying for a health insurance benefit which should last several years. Also, I have built a nice portfolio but I want a little more breathing room. My wife started a business a couple of years ago and her biggest problem is that it is growing too fast. I can definitely add value to that business in several ways since our knowledge tends to compliment each other.

    So, I am now living by the calendar. Day by day. I am trying to take it in short doses. I just had my Money Purchase Pension Plan contribution yesterday, I have a vacation to Jamaica in mid April with the family, a trip for the wife and I to Vegas in May, a bonus in May, a firm wide bonus in June and 2 weeks off in August. I am using these dates as markers. Just make it to the next one and then the next one. I have put up with this for almost 2 years. I know it won’t change unless he moves along (he won’t go to another firm on his own) or does something so egregious that he gets fired. Literally, yesterday marked the beginning of the 24 month countdown.

    I know that is pathetic but it is all I have. I pretty much have tried the techniques above but they have not worked for me or for others. He is just wickedly insecure and cannot help himself.

    • says

      Ma, that must be so painful getting micromanaged as a 48 year old with experience. WTF!

      I hope your two years goes by quick. It’s great to shoot for something, and I think you’ll survive.

      How did you find this post btw? I’m always curious to know. thx

      • MD says

        Sam,

        I follow your blog all the time. I don’t post much but really enjoy reading it. It has been a couple of weeks since I checked in. I did post a comment on investing in the equity markets that has worked for me.

        Thanks for providing such fantastic information. I have learned a TON reading this blog. Also, thanks to the commenters as well for the knowledge they bring to the table.

  16. TM says

    I typically like your posts/blogs, but had a hard time finishing this one ( and full disclosure I am not a manager myself-thought I am consistently rated as a high performing employee). However, I think what many people are failing to realize is that, from my observations, people are not nearly as good at their jobs as they think, as well as view ‘more qualified’ with years of experience or seniority. So I probably would have led with ‘simply messing up, as point #1 vs. point #5, as I believe it is much more likely to be the case.

    This does not condone poor managing, of which I think you are spot on with the Peter principle concept, but I find people mis-interpret poor managing for lacking autonomy or decision making.

    • says

      It’s probably hard to empathize with this post if you’ve never been micromanaged and are currently a “high performing employee” as you describe yourself.

      How long have you been working currently and what is your function? BTW, I always encourage readers who have difficulty reading a particular blog post to write a blog post that would be considered easier to read and better. If you’re interested, please let me know! Thanks

      • TM says

        A few clarifications are apparently in order:

        1)It was hard for me to finish, not from poor writing style, but because I strongly disagreed with the message of blame the manager first (see point #2 which follows for more). As I said before, I generally enjoy the blog, just didn’t agree with the premise of the article so I thought I would let you know via the comment section.

        2)I said that I am not a manager of people currently, not that I have never been micromanaged. In my experiences, much like Untemplater says below my comment, many micromanagers will stop micromanaging once work is done correctly consistently and trust is built. However, as you correctly point out, there is a portion of managers who micromange because they are simply unfit to be managing. I was trying to articulate that employees who complain of a micromanager need to do an honest reflection of their work first to see if the micromanaging is justified (as it is more justified more often than people realize)

        3)I have been at my fortune 500 company for 5 years now, being promoted 4 times (hence the high performer comment). My roles have been within various financial, business, & analytics roles.

        Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

        • says

          I think we have different takes. The beginning of the article starts off with the position of being micromanaged by an experienced person, not from a high performer who is not being micromanaged. IF you are a high performer who is not being micromanaged, this article does not pertain to you.

          Point #5:

          5) You’re simply messing up. If you were doing your job “perfectly” you would be micromanaged less. The issue is, the definition of “perfect” might be different between you two. Take time to understand exactly how your manager likes things to be done and write them down.

          What were you doing before your current fortune 500?

  17. MD says

    I have been a highly rated employee my entire career. That is how I got to this high paying Job. Everyone in my position has been rated the same or they never would have made it this far. That is the strange thing. He makes an easy job into a very hard one for himself. His drama has already raised the awareness of our HR division. Not through me – yet. It is odd to me that he cannot see this.

  18. says

    Micromanaging is exhausting. I’ve only had to do it when an employee is performing poorly and needs to be watched closely to avoid critical errors. It takes some extra attention to show the steps to avoid repeat mistakes, but once that work is done and trust is rebuilt, there’s no need to continue micromanaging

  19. SRSales says

    Ugh, this whole article really rings so true!

    I’ve been suffering with a micromanager for years—a high-performing salesperson who’s just a terrible manager.

    The proof to me is that my sales skyrocket when she’s out of town. I just got back from a rare 2 days off, and spent 80% of my day answering her ridiculous emails about leads which went cold 6 months ago—which she was CCed on at the time.

    She insists I CC her on every single email to every single person. It’s ridiculous! I’m intellectually her superior and well-known in the office for being detail-oriented, thorough, and a strong team player. And it doesn’t seem to matter how great my sales performance is; whether I’m doing well or not, her micro style is set off.

    She clearly favors an attractive younger male colleague, whom she lets offer much better terms and shorter lead times to potential clients. Her personal style of communicating is more similar to his, and I think he doesn’t threaten her ego.

    What to do? Do I try to resolve this with her, with the company owner/boss with whom she’s thick as thieves, or the head of HR, who’s coincidentally her best friend? Help, I’m capable of so much more!!

    • says

      You’ve got to have a heart to heart! Be honest and nice to her. If you speak to HR, you will blow yourself up unfortunately as their job is to protect the firm and report everything to the manager.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *