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7 tips for dealing with a micromanager

It is possible to manage your controlling boss.
7 tips for dealing with a micromanager

Micromanagers can be found in every industry, but they are certainly well accounted for in the finance industry, where many highly intelligent and driven leaders know exactly what they want.

An overcontrolling boss might ask you to keep detailed records of activities at work, or to communicate unnecessarily about routine details. Dealing with a micromanager can be stressful and demoralising and can sap your productivity, but you can learn ways to handle such a boss and avoid job burnout.

“Most of my clients are Fortune 500 leaders, so trust me, 98% of them are micromanagers,” said Lolly Daskal, a New York City-based leadership executive coach and CEO of Lead From Within.

Daskal said there are two primary reasons why someone might be a micromanager — either it’s a part of their personality and they’re an individual who likes things a certain way, or they don’t trust their team and feel the need to oversee each step of the process. Whatever the reason behind their oppressive management style, here are steps employees can take to make work more tolerable for both themselves and their boss:

Evaluate yourself. If you believe your boss is micromanaging you because he or she doesn’t trust you, the first step is to do an honest self-assessment. Have you delivered on what you’ve promised? Are you giving the best of what you have to offer?

“We have to be very mindful and ask ourselves if we’re giving our best,” Daskal said. “And another thing to consider is whether you’re really the person who should be doing the task at hand. Sometimes people think they want the task, but once they get the task, they cannot do it, so they have to be honest enough to say, ‘I need support and I need help,’ but the first thing is to ask self-evaluating questions.”

Build trust. Once you’ve completed a self-assessment, you should work to increase trust between you and your boss by asking if there’s anything you can improve upon.

“I’ve seen a lot of micromanagers, and I’ve never heard somebody complain that someone came to ask them how they can do better,” Daskal said. “They love that; that is food for their soul, because they like to control things, and it actually gives them the appreciation that you really want to try.”

Be proactive. Experts agree that rather than waiting around for your boss to tell you exactly what to do, you should take the initiative to find out for yourself.

“Do not wait for your boss to come to you and ask you for things. Anticipate their moves,” said Gianluca Bisceglie, CEO of Visyond, a cloud-based automated spreadsheet software company based in London. “Tell them, ‘I promised I would complete this today; let me give you an update.’ Don’t hide, don’t find excuses, and don’t blame others. Take responsibility. Show that you are a mature person they can trust and who acts in the best interest of the company.”

Make agreements upfront. If you meet with your boss in advance to outline what their standards are and what approach they want, you can refer back to that information and avoid wasting time on a project that will be tossed out the minute it reaches your boss’s desk.

“Know upfront what your boss needs, how they think, and what they like,” Daskal said. “It’s more about what your boss wants than what you think is right, so be sure to understand upfront what the guiding principles are so you can give your boss the tactical elements that they need.”

Keep your boss in the loop. In order to keep your boss’s anxiety at the lowest setting, make sure to check in with them along the way. This might add to your list of things to do, but it could satisfy your boss’s need for information and in the long run reduce time spent checking in and keep you focused.

“Tell them, ‘This is what I’m doing and this is how I’m doing it. Do you need something to be different?’” Daskal said. “If you keep your manager or boss in the loop, it will keep you on track of what you need to do, and it will keep the anxiety of your boss to a minimum.”

Give feedback. It’s possible your micromanaging boss is unaware of their helicopter tendencies, and it may be helpful to gently give them feedback on how to get the best work from you.

“We can’t be telling our boss, ‘You are a micromanager’; that won’t go over well,” Daskal said. “The best way to give feedback is to present it in a way so your boss feels you’re bringing value to them.”

Daskal recommended saying something along the lines of, “If you want to get the best out of me, this is the way to do it,” and then explaining to them what motivates you.

Don’t fight back. Often, the worst thing you can do under a micromanager is fight back with aggression.

“Micromanagement is often the effect of some deeper issues of self-esteem and trust,” Bisceglie said. “So never call your boss a micromanager or, worse, bad-mouth them at the watercooler for that. Information travels faster than you think.”

Daskal agreed it is counterproductive to react to your micromanaging boss in an aggressive or passive-aggressive way. She suggested “riding the wave” with the micromanager and helping them help you.

“You don’t want to meet someone who is aggressive with aggression, because then all you get is aggression,” she said. “Slow it down and go inward — I always say to look at yourself before you try to correct others.”

Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.