10 Tips: Surviving Micromanagement

Graph of Autonomy, Dignity, Mutiny

Thanks to thisisindexed.com for this graph. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

I’m not sure if it’s my youth (full disclosure: I’m not really that young) or my personality that adores autonomy and cringes at the concept, and the idea, of micromanagement. In the past seven years, I have been proud to watch the board of our organization grow from a lopsided grassroots board to one who is gradually taking the governance reins and is making great strides.

But as we all know, utopia is a myth, and I have talked to more than one colleague who has at least one person that is making their life relatively sour due to a constant hawkish attention to the tasks that are supposed to be trusted to that person. Sometimes this attention persists, even in light of reassurance from their peers that the aforementioned person is doing the right thing for the organization.

The roots of micromanagement are based in distrust, whether conscious or subconscious, on the part of the micromanager. This often happens when a board moves from an operations role (usually with one or fewer employees) into the unfamiliar territory of organizational governance. Often there will be one or two members (sometimes more; you have my sympathy) who are uncomfortable with the new role and cling to the old. They may actively resist any attempts at board development or education, have tunnel vision about the programs that they are interested in, and complain often after-the-fact without providing feedback along the way. We’ve all dealt with this, I’m sure.

On the flip side, many people I know tend to confuse lack of autonomy with micromanagement. Sometimes they just need the morale boost that comes with being left to finish something for which they are responsible. From the managers point of view, if the person responsible is constantly cranking out substandard work, than it is the manager’s obligation to aid the employee in producing work of the expected quality. In the best case, this is accompanied by clear expectations and measurement parameters for what success looks like.

Here are 10 tips to help you deal with a potential micromanagement situation:

  1. Be completely honest with yourself. Take an objective look at the situation. Have you been doing your best? Have you been communicating thoroughly and effectively when necessary? Do you have a history of “dropping the ball?” Sometimes charity starts at home (no pun intended), and there are some things that you could do a little differently to win yourself additional autonomy.
  2. Find an ally. Consider the level that the perceived micromanager is sitting. Are they a board member? A staff member? Can you find one of their peers that would be willing to work with you towards a solution, or mediate the situation? Finding a person who the micromanager respects can often help them see their concerns in a new light.
  3. Meet them on their turf. It may seem scary, but if the micromanaging behavior is uncharacteristic, and you feel comfortable talking to the person who is being too involved, it may be worth it to ask them what the root of the problem is. Would they like further updates? Are they having trouble understanding the innerworkings of a complicated procedure or policy? People like to be asked for their thoughts and opinions, so this may help to win them over.
  4. Open the lines of communication. If communication channels seem to have broken down, could you do a weekly, biweekly or monthly update on your progress? If you can send this out to a group rather than one person, even better. Sometimes, the sheer level of detail in the work that you tackle daily will get a micromanager to change their tune. No one I know wants to be inundated with too much information in this day and age. A word to the wise, though: If this tip will create an inordinate amount of work for you, talk to your superior or the board president about alternate solutions.
  5. Speak with your superior. Though related to “Find an Ally,” in this case I am thinking more in the vein of someone outside of the micromanager’s circle that you can have a chat with about the problem. If it starting to affect your work, or if you aren’t sure how to approach the problem, find someone higher-up to help. If this isn’t possible (if the majority of the board is micromanaging the Executive Director, for example), you may want to check out tip #10 below.
  6. Assess the situation. What are the potential benefits and detriments of the situation? If you feel you are doing everything you should (see tip #1), determining the best and worse case scenarios, the potential players, and brainstorming next steps can sometimes help you to clear your head and put things in perspective.
  7. Highlight your successes. If you’re going to communicate general information, don’t forget to let people know your successes as well! This may improve their confidence in you, decreasing the emotional need for micromanagement and allowing them to appreciate your role in the organization.
  8. Create an environment of mutual respect. Though you may be tempted to respond in kind to a micromanager who is a little, um, insufferable, always take the professional high road. Stooping to their level will just put you at a disadvantage, and has the potential to make you seem even less trustworthy.
  9. Don’t take it to heart. As one of my donors is wont to point out, “Some people would complain about going to heaven.” Keep doing your best, and if someone takes issue with it, don’t take it to heart. Turning the other cheek may be difficult, but it will be worth it in the long run.
  10. If it’s a chronic problem, consider your more serious options. If none of the above solutions work, and you feel that sinking feeling in your gut every time you go to the office, a move may be the best idea. Whether it is a move to a different job, or taking the brave step of stirring up positive change at your organization, plan all of your angles. Hopefully, before considering this option, you will have found some allies, and you can speak to them in advance about your thoughts, and the eventuality that you may have to move to greener pastures. They may even give you a glowing reference. Just make sure to leave on the highest note possible and don’t burn your bridges.

Do you have any micromanagement horror stories you’d like to share? Any examples of how you fixed an issue like this during your career?


Posted on April 23, 2013, in 10 Tips, Board/Staff Dynamics, Developing Relationships, Prioritizing, Team Work, Workplace Issues, Your Career and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Wait ’em out. Sometimes micromanagers get so caught up in the minutia, they miss the big picture. Then they’re gone.

  2. Also, sometimes I find myself as the micromanager and then I need to take a step back and let it go, trusting that it’s taken care of and I really can’t do every task myself, no matter how much I may like to. It’s a control thing for me, but also being able to communicate with my staff so that everyone feels comfortable with the work that’s getting done and speaking up when toes are stepped on.

    • Oh my goodness, I know what you mean Ellen. I used to be a terrible delegater, and I still have a ways to go in that regard. It’s a leap of faith to let someone do something on their own, especially if you aren’t sure that they will do it in your own tried-and-tested way.

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