Iím Stuck in Weeds and Canít Get Out: The Micromanagerís Recovery Guide
He gives me an assignment and tells me to do it my way. I only wish he meant it. My way doesn’t seem to hit the mark. He changes the smallest details. I dread getting new work.
I’ve had this job for six years. At this point, I think I understand how it works. It’s so frustrating to be treated like someone who just walked in the door.
Yesterday, I found her checking my spreadsheets when she thought I was at lunch. It feels terrible not to be trusted. I need to look for a new job.
Regardless of their intentions, people who micromanage often create an environment of fear, mistrust, and disengagement. The constant oversight, checking in, and nitpicking wears down even the strongest employee. Turnover goes up, engagement goes down, and all the while, the managers who micromanage may not even know they’re the source of the problem.
The good news? With a little self-awareness and some hard work, micromanagers can learn to let go.
Step One: Recognize the Behavior Pattern
If your employees don’t take initiative and wait for you to micro-delegate, you may have created a culture where they don’t feel comfortable taking the next step without your say so.
More signs? If you find yourself redoing work, checking and rechecking assignments, insisting you be copied on everything, chances are you have some micromanaging tendencies.
Step Two: Think About the Consequences
Micromanagers Eventually Face
Micromanagers exact control. In the short term, they have command of the future. Long term, however, many micromanagers find themselves stuck in roles, unable to take vacation without calling in, and essentially tied to their jobs.
Recovering micromanagers have a better chance of self-rehabilitation when they know how they will benefit from changing their behavior. Ask yourself: Where do you want to be in a year? How about three? Do you have a replacement identified? Is that person ready to take over for you? If not, there is work to do if you plan to move on, or at some point have a life outside the job.
Step Three: When Delegating, Ask Yourself if "How"
Once the recovering micromanager recognizes the problem and knows why change is important, it’s time to get practical and start focusing on what instead of how.
In other words, if how something is done doesn’t matter, treat people like the adults they are, and let them complete work in a way that works for them.
In cases where how something is accomplished matters, explain why that is. For example, if you work in a lab, explain the importance of the work instruction and why the person performing the work must do so in a specific way.
Step Four: Show People What A-Grade Work Looks Like
Recovering micromanagers will reduce their propensity to backslide if their employees deliver great work. What exactly does great work mean? Good question! If the micromanager has not explained what makes an A an A, how can that person possibly expect employees to produce a stellar work product with any regularity? Take the time to be complete, and you may be surprised at your team’s ability to rise to the occasion.
Step Five: Work on Accepting Different Approaches
Old habits die hard, and change takes time without some help. A little narration can go a long way toward steering the brain in the right direction. “James is not me, and I am not James. It’s okay that we don’t work the same way.” A mantra such as that can serve as a gentle reminder and help the micromanager recalibrate. Eventually, these new mental tapes will start to replace old thinking patterns. With hope, the updated mental map will positively influence the manager’s choices and behaviors.
Step Six: Perform the Goldilocks Test
Recovering micromanagers aren’t mind readers, so it’s important that they get comfortable with feedback. A multiple-choice approach is often the best way to encourage candor. For instance: “I’d like to get some feedback from you about how you like to work. Am I too hands on, too hands off, or just right? I’m asking because everyone operates differently, and it’s important to me that we work well together.”
A word of caution: even with the Goldilocks approach, if you’ve micromanaged your team for a long time, it may take a while for them to give you frank feedback. Check in often and get specific. “Chuck, let’s talk about this last assignment. Do you feel we got the delegation balance right or do we need to make some adjustments?”
Step Seven: Don’t Argue with the Feedback
When someone gives you feedback you don’t like or don’t agree with, don’t argue. Your employee’s perception is the reality you must work with. So instead of fighting or withdrawing, ask questions. For example: “What I’m hearing is you would like me to focus less on how you run the lab tests and more on the number you complete each day. Do I understand correctly? If I explained why, in this case, the process matters, do you think you might feel differently?”
Step Eight: Look for Ways to Let Go and Take on New Tasks
Leaving the micromanaging lifestyle behind is a process and not an event. Self-development requires regular assessment and planning. In addition to asking for feedback, pay attention to where you spend your time that you shouldn’t, and where you could that you don’t. Are you working on strategic initiatives or navigating deep in the weeds? Are you developing people or hoarding work? Are you controlling or empowering? The questions are numerous and important to ask.
To sum it up, any activity that requires change can be hard work and, at times, even a little scary. For micromanagers, this can be especially true. Nevertheless, as most rehabilitated micromanagers will profess, it’s a lot more productive and rewarding to work in a place where people have the freedom to do their best work. If you’re a micromanager or think you might be, now is the time to do something about it.
Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc. For more information, visit