Work & Career
9 Signs Your Boss Is a Micromanager—and How to Handle Them
Nobody likes being micromanaged, but one too many bosses are guilty of the unfavorable management style. If yours is one of them, here’s how to tackle the problem (without getting fired.)
Your boss wants to know all about the process
An empowering boss doesn’t just dole out tasks and then disappear but will guide you through the process. There’s a fine line between managing and bossing around though. Most bosses focus on the end goal, but micromanagers want to control every step that leads there, says Richard Wellins, PhD, senior vice president of leadership development company DDI. Talking with your boss is the only way to stop the behavior, but don’t point fingers at your manager, says leadership expert Todd Dewett, PhD. “Ask if a client shared difficult feedback about them. Suggest you’re always open to feedback,” he says. “The act of asking these questions will prompt them to think about why they are hovering over you so often.” These are the 9 things you should never say to your boss.
Your boss gets hung up on details
Micromanagers get hung up on the teensy little details instead of focusing on the big picture. Effective bosses should give advice, but it should be constructive criticism about things that actually matter. “Are you getting to a level of detail that it becomes spiteful rather than encouraging?” says Dr. Wellins. Nip the scrutiny at the bud by making sure you know exactly what your boss wants before you start a project. Repeat the directions back to your boss clearly and concisely to make sure you’ve both on the same page, says Dr. Dewett.
You feel like you have no freedom
When there’s someone constantly looking over your shoulder, it’s easy to believe you don’t have any control over your job. That lack of freedom can feel like your work doesn’t belong to you anymore, says Muriel Maignan Wilkins, managing partner and co-founder of leadership development consulting firm Paravis Partners co-author of Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence. “Everyone wants some form of autonomy around their work,” she says. “That doesn’t mean everything, but if they’re not given the freedom to complete what they are responsible for, it can feel like they don’t have power over their work.” Regain some power by learning to say “no,” suggests executive coach Nancy Halpern, principal of KNH Associates. Gracefully tell your boss you can only take on certain tasks if you let go of others, she says.
You’ve given up on trying
Because micromanagers are so hard to please, you might end up with “learned helplessness”—convinced you should wait for the green light before trying anything. After all, why go through the trouble if your boss is just going to redo the whole thing? “You have employees who are tuned and expecting the direction,” says Dr. Wellins. “They wait rather than take that high initiative because they know if that take high initiative or do it in a different way, the micromanager will be looking over their shoulder.” When you stop learning and being creative, you’ll also stop growing professionally. Letting your boss know you’re ambitious will probably help, says Halpern. “Controlling bosses are typically perfectionists,” she says. “When they know you care as much as they do they may be willing to loosen up a bit.” Don’t miss these 9 clear signs you can’t trust your boss.
You constantly need to check in
Any boss will likely expect updates. But micromanagers don’t have the level of trust to believe that you’ll follow through if they don’t constantly ask about your progress. “Non-micromanagers will follow up on an as-needed basis and trust the employee will get it done,” says Wilkins. “Micromanagers, if they don’t hear constantly from the employee, will follow up consistently and try to course-correct.” Those check-ins will start to feel overbearing instead of productive. Combat it by proactively checking in before your boss approaches you, says Dr. Dewett. “Before they can come see you, drop them an email, or just drop by for 30 seconds and tell them what’s what,” he says. “If they want to follow up the will but if you’re giving them what they need they will begin to slowly trust you.” Eventually, they’ll stop feeling the need to check in so often. Try these other ways to build trust with your boss.
You feel like an idiot
With someone criticizing every little detail, it’s easy to feel like you aren’t good at your job. “You have a lot of self-confidence to overcome a micromanager because you have to say it’s the micromanager screwing up, not you,” says Dr. Wellins. Remind yourself that you deserve your position and know what you’re doing, even if your boss doesn’t acknowledge it. In fact, the better your work is and the more great feedback comes back from your colleagues, the more your boss will trust you, says Dr. Dewett. Focus on these 10 subtle things that actually get you noticed at work.
Nothing gets done quickly
In the short-term, a controlling boss might get things done faster because only one person gives the final “OK.” But in the long run, things slow down because employees won’t learn how to complete tasks themselves, says Wilkins. Plus, when a micromanager needs to be involved in every step, things often get bottlenecked while waiting for approval, says Dr. Weillins. If this happens in your office, be sure to plan extra time for every project, says Halpern. Be sure to plan extra time as a cushion for your boss’s controlling behavior,” she says. “Add an additional week whenever possible to your deadline.”
Your boss is busier than anyone else
Some micromanagers think if you want it done right, you better do it yourself. Because they don’t trust their employees, they end up taking on way more work than they should. “They get themselves bogged down with the little things when they should be picking their battles,” says Wilkins.
Your boss doesn’t listen to feedback
Any good relationship goes two ways—including the one with your boss. Just as your supervisor gives you pointers, he or she should ask for feedback from you, too. The problem is, micromanagers are convinced they’re always right, so employees are afraid to bring anything up. “They’re not being asked for feedback, and when they are it’s rebuffed and the manager gets defensive,” says Wilkins. If you do decide to approach a micromanager about your leadership, word it gently, she says. Frame it as if you want to know what changes you can make to do high-quality work while taking some of the load off your manager. These are the 50 secrets your boss won’t tell you–but you need to know.