In this episode of The Inner Chief Podcast, we firstly uncover a range of reasons why leaders are seemingly controlling you. We then teach you step-by-step how to deal with a micromanager; by adjusting your approach, you can improve the working relationship so that it is more effective and less soul-destroying.
Why do leaders micromanage?
Before you dive in and start trash-talking your overbearing boss, it is wise to show a bit of empathy and seek some understanding as to why they might be micromanaging you. Take a few minutes to think deeply and look through their eyes about what might be causing them to dip down. Here are the 6 most common reasons your boss might micromanage you.
THEY LOVE DETAIL
They are simply a true lover of detail, logic and the way things fit together. They might be an engineer, a specialist or technical professional and this the stuff they can’t get enough of. They find it so alluring that, when a technical problem comes across their desk, they can’t help but dive in.
THEY ARE NEW TO LEADERSHIP
They may well be in a leadership position and simply not sure how to operate a team on a week-to-week basis. (I.e. They’re not proficient in team strategy, planning, coaching and developing, running effective meetings etc) So they revert to their comfort zone which is the detail. This is incredibly common among middle and senior managers that have come from technical professional roles and won a leadership role because they were the most senior technical person. They now find themselves in a role that requires a totally different skill set and shifting to a hands-off, leadership role is nearly impossible (unless they’re developed). All their internal decision-making processes are based on having the detail and without that they feel exposed, anxious and lack clarity. So they dip down into your work and annoy you without knowing it.
THEY ARE UNDER PRESSURE
Often the trigger is high pressure to deliver something significant and your specific work is critical to their success. Departments normally have just one or two critical projects that need to succeed in order to get results. If you’re leading this for your boss then you can expect a high level of interest from you boss.
YOU’RE NOT PERFORMING
You aren’t performing and you’re not showing them the actions or saying the right things to make them feel like things are in hand. It might also be that you’re new to the role and haven’t proven yourself at this level yet. If someone in your team was under-performing and you weren’t sure how to handle it, you might well start micromanaging as well.
WRONG COMMUNICATION STYLE
You’re not speaking their language and you’re reporting things in a way that causes them concern. This might mean you’re in team meetings or 1:1s and keeping things vague and too high level which makes them feel like you don’t have things in hand.
YOU’RE A THREAT
You’re a threat and they’re so worried about you making them look bad that they’re taking a fine tooth comb to everything you do to find faults and keep you in your place. This, in turn, also places a barrier to you getting a seat on the executive team.
Now, let's look at some strategies you can use to stop being micromanaged.
Step 1: Take ownership
Get on the front foot and take ownership of the situation by treating your boss as your customer. If they’re micromanaging, it’s most likely because, for some reason, they’re not happy. So define:
- What are their big issues? What are their bosses on about?
- Are they a lover of details?
- Are they under the pump with a big project?
- Is this their first leadership role and do they have the skill?
- Are you a threat to their progression in the organisation?
Remember to be sympathetic at this point. While their leadership might be very annoying for you, there is nearly always a very understandable deeper issue at hand.
Step 2: Define your new approach
Now you’ve got a greater understanding of your customer here are a few ways you can improve the situation:
GIVE THEM THEIR HIT OF DETAIL
If they are a real lover of details, embrace it. It is a fine quality and it made them experts at the work you now find yourself doing. They’re a source of invaluable knowledge. So, instead of leaving them out of the detail take particularly tricky pieces of work to them for advice on process and detail. Satiate their thirst. Giving them their weekly or daily hit of technical might mean they step back a little.
SUPPORT THEIR LEADERSHIP AND DECISION-MAKING PROCESS
Remember two key things here. They most likely need significant detail to feel comfortable in their decisions and they aren’t sure about how to be a great tactical or spiritual leader of the team. So you can start by:
1. Sharing some cool links to books, articles and podcasts [like THIS one ;-)] to expand their knowledge;
2. Befriend them on the journey to changing the team culture. Be their number one supporter and help them shift things. But make sure they don’t see you as a threat;
3. Ask them what detail they require in your reports or presentations that will help them make decisions. Perhaps you can have that presented in a clearer format so they know you’ve got things covered.
RELEASE THE PRESSURE VALVE
If you are delivering a mission-critical project for their department plan then embrace their additional oversight. Pressure is a privilege and you’re in the hot seat. Their future is reliant on you. So don’t avoid it, bring them in the room and seek their counsel. If you open up and be really transparent with your plans and actions it will increase their trust in you and they’ll have more confidence that you won’t do anything crazy. Ask questions like – what would you do? What are some ways you’ve dealt with this before? What do you think is most important? Present your plan in detail and every week meet with them to demonstrate what you’ve done on that plan. Always remember to demonstrate that you’ve incorporated their advice and report back on what happened.
COMMUNICATE IN THEIR LANGUAGE
Start by changing the format of your reports. Make them very clear and list the specific actions you’re taking every week. Then, take ownership of your 1:1s and clearly outline your plan for the week, key actions and approach to certain situations. Then get their advice and once again report back. The last point is use language that appeals to their more organised and detailed approach. Instead of, “We are planning to meet the ABC Bank guys to discuss…”, say, “We have scheduled the meeting with Joe Clark from ABC bank on Tuesday at 11am and we’ll discuss a, b, c and d. The outcome of the meeting is…” While this might seem a little annoying, you have to do that preparation anyway so it shouldn’t really be any more work.
RESET THE BOUNDARIES
If in the end, they are serial offenders and other methods aren’t bearing fruit then a discussion around resetting the boundaries of the relationship is important. One way to broach this topic is by sharing with them that their approach is causing you significant stress and making it hard for you to perform. Then seek their advice on what you can do differently to be more effective in supporting them. They’ll likely take some ownership of the problem
TAKE A NEW PATH
If you’ve really sought to understand them and taken as much personal ownership of the situation and you’re not getting results then you’re really faced with a decision about whether or not this is a fit for you. Life under a micromanager can really suck the life out of you and sometimes you need to open your eyes to the wider impact of this and how you’re letting it affect you. Cast your mind forward and ask yourself, “Will things change? Can I live with this situation?” If not, start exploring other opportunities in the organisation you work for with a sideways or upwards shift. Having no luck there, start looking at the market.
Step 3: Be patient
A final point to remember is that you don’t always get meteoric shifts in the pattern of your relationship with people. It can be done from time to time but that shouldn’t be your go-to move. Instead, focus on shifting them little by little. Just 1% shift every time you talk to them. If you do that after just three months you’ll likely be in a 50% better situation.
In the end, you’ll have a far more satisfying job and this will flow through to energy, growth and what you bring home at the end of the day.
Righto Chiefs, over to you take the reins.