Is Micromanagement Bad – Yes and No

With almost every client we’ve ever worked with, at some point, someone asks about micromanagement. Normally, they are wondering how to deal with a micromanaging boss. There’s often a lot of frustration and emotion in this question. People don’t like being told what to do, and sometimes it’s even worse coming from your boss because you feel like they don’t trust you. Because of the emotional and psychological effects of long-term micromanagement, most people would answer yes to the question – is micromanagement bad? However, to truly answer this question, we need to detach from our perspective. We need to evaluate this question from the lens of the micromanager.

A micromanager’s perspective

If you are being micromanaged, you need to ask yourself this question: Why would my boss micromanage me? You might come up with a few different answers.

  • My boss doesn’t trust me
  • My boss has control issues
  • My boss likes to get into the weeds
  • My boss likes to dictate the plan and be in charge

These all may be correct. However, there’s another answer you likely aren’t considering, but that is mostly like true for almost all micromanagers. Your boss is micromanaging you because they care. They care about you and your success. They care about the team accomplishing their goals. They care about the organization accomplishing its mission. They care about the outcome. They care so much that they have become overbearing, and they may not even realize it.

Often this micromanaging behavior is easier to understand and recognize in parents. The stereotypical “helicopter parent” acts much like a micromanager. But they don’t hover because they want to make their child’s life miserable. They do it because they care so much they don’t want anything bad to happen. The unfortunate effect in both situations is that no one likes to feel hovered over or controlled so there is a natural rebellion against it.

If we can change our perspective on micromanagement, we can start to see how to solve the root cause of micromanagement. Instead of asking, “Is micromanagement bad?” we start to ask, “What can I do to support the micromanager?”

Take ownership of micromanagement

There is another issue with our initial instinct to be frustrated by micromanagement. In all of the examples above, the micromanager is being blamed for micromanaging. However, if you are the one being micromanaged, you have to find a way to take ownership of that.

  • If you think, “my boss doesn’t trust me”, then you need to build a better relationship with your boss to earn their trust. 
  • If you think, “my boss has control issues”, then you need to let your boss have control and constantly communicate to keep them in the loop.
  • If you think, “my boss likes to get into the weeds”, then give your boss all the detail they could possibly ask for.
  • If you think, “My boss likes to dictate the plan and be in charge”, then let them dictate the plan and be in charge.

Doing all of these things will help you establish a better relationship with your boss and overtime, they may begin to trust you more and pull back on micromanaging.

There is a time to micromanage

We also need to remember that micromanagement is a tool that has a time and place for use. If you have a new team member who’s just getting up to speed, you aren’t going to let them loose to do whatever they want right away. You’re going to have tighter control over them at first to ensure they know what to do and are fully supported as they learn their new role.

Micromanagement might also be necessary when a team member is not meeting standards. Part of the escalation of counseling is having tighter control over a team member who is struggling to perform. Until they prove they can execute without oversight, micromanagement may be necessary.

In any situation where micromanagement is deployed, it must be done so intentionally, transparently, and for a short time. Micromanagement is not a long-term solution. Not for your team or for the leader utilizing the tool. You might be able to control everything at first, but eventually, that will become all you have time for, and it will hurt the team. People also crave freedom, and the longer you stifle that freedom through micromanagement, the more likely it will be that morale will plummet, and people will find their freedom elsewhere.

Conclusion

So, is micromanagement bad? Yes, if it is employed for too long and done so unintentionally. Most people who micromanage do it because they care deeply about the success of the mission and the people accomplishing it. If we can learn to stop blaming the micromanager and, instead, take ownership of why we are being micromanaged, we can start to regain some freedom.

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