Learn why micromanagement is one of the most toxic management styles

There are many similarities and differences between a leader and a manager, but a micromanager is a difficult breed. Micromanagers excessively monitor and control their employees' work, which can result in frustration and demotivation. While micromanagement can be well-intentioned, it can also create a toxic work environment that hinders productivity and damages employee morale.

In this article, we'll explore the signs of a micromanager, the reasons why managers micromanage, and the best ways to deal with a micromanager, so that you can build a more positive and productive work environment.

What is a micromanager?

A micromanager is a boss that tries to control employees. They closely observe, excessively supervise, and want to be in the loop every single step of the way. Micromanagers often want projects and tasks to go exactly their way. As a result, they lurk and snoop in an attempt to control, and often frequently critique the work of employees.

Micromanagers may have good intentions, but this behaviour can be damaging for individuals, teams, and the business, as it undermines autonomy and creativity. Because of their watchful eye and continuous criticism, it can seem like micromanagers don't trust staff, which can reduce morale, create friction, and increase employee turnover.

Micromanagement is a type of management style known as “autocratic management.” It's one of the most unpleasant management styles, where the boss holds all the power, ensures that employees perform within defined parameters, and expects complete acceptance.

What are the signs of a micromanager?

If you're trying to determine whether your boss is a micromanager, here are the most common signs and traits:

Constantly checking in: Micromanagers check in frequently, often multiple times a day, to see what employees are working on and how they're progressing. They tend to get involved with every part of a project, including minor details.

Difficulty delegating: Micromanagers can find it difficult to delegate work to others. They prefer to do the work themselves, even if it's more than they can handle, because they think they could do a better job. The alternative is letting someone else do it with strict instructions on how it should be done, followed up with a good dose of close observation.

Nitpicking: Micromanagers are rarely satisfied with deliverables. They focus on minor details, often positioning small errors as major mistakes, particularly if a task was not carried out exactly how they would do it. As a result, they tend to overlook the overall effort and achievement of the team. 

Lack of trust: Micromanagers often think that they could do a better job than their employees, so they feel the need to excessively supervise. For example, they may ask to be cc'd on all emails. Also, micromanagers don't trust their employees to make decisions or take initiative and might become irritable when decisions are made independently without their input.

Inability to give up control: Micromanagers struggle to release control, which means that they usually make decisions on their own and avoid empowering others. They can take on the role of Project Manager, even when a project leader has been assigned.

Unwillingness to listen: Micromanagers often believe that only their view is correct and valid. As a result, they disregard or dismiss feedback from employees.

Overemphasis on processes: Micromanagers can become overly fixated on complying with processes and procedures over achieving results.

Lack of flexibility: Micromanagers often feel that their way of doing things is superior. Since their approach is the only correct option in their minds, they are often reluctant to adapt to changing circumstances.

These behavioural traits can make team members feel frustrated and resentful, as they aren't given the chance to think autonomously or put their talents to use. Employees may also develop a sense of imposter syndrome and start to doubt their abilities or chances of a successful career, if their work is berated at every turn.

What causes managers to micromanage?

There are many reasons why managers micromanage and, while they may have good intentions, it can be extremely damaging for staff. Here are some of the most common reasons that managers micromanage:

Insecurity: Managers may lack confidence in their own abilities and feel the need to prove that they can achieve and deliver.

Perfectionism: Managers may have perfectionist tendencies and so believe that everything must be completed to the highest standard (which is often unrealistic and unnecessary in actuality).

Narcissism: Narcissistic managers tend to have an inflated sense of self-importance and may see employees as an extension of themselves, which results in micromanaging to ensure the work meets their high standards. If they also have a need for control and attention, micromanaging can provide them with both.

Anxiety: Anxiety can lead to feelings of uncertainty, fear, and a lack of control. Managers who experience anxiety may find micromanaging a way to alleviate these feelings by exerting control of their work environment and employees.

Poor previous managers: Micromanagers can breed more micromanagers. If all an employee has known is an environment with excessive control and a lack of trust, and has spent a long time being tightly managed rather than led, they may adopt micromanager behaviour too. 

Lack of communication skills: Managers that lack good communication skills may feel that they need to closely manage, to ensure they are understood correctly.

Fear of failure: Managers may be scared of failing and so feel that they must supervise every detail to prevent mistakes and ensure everything goes smoothly.

Lack of experience: Managers that are new to a role, new to an industry, or new to management may feel like they need to micromanage so that they can learn the ropes and gain confidence in their abilities.

Exploring ways to shift towards a more collaborative and empowering management style, like democratic leadership, is the best way for micromanagers to become more effective leaders. 

What's the best way to deal with a micromanager?

Micromanaging is a toxic behaviour and dealing with a micromanager can be challenging. Here are some strategies that can help you to manage the situation:

Understand their perspective: Try to understand why your manager is micromanaging. Are they trying to ensure that everything is done correctly, or do they not trust you to get the job done? Understanding their perspective can help you to develop a strategy for working with them more effectively.

Communicate clearly: Communicate clearly and regularly with your manager, to ensure they understand you and your work. This can help them to feel more comfortable delegating tasks to you.

Establish clear expectations: Be clear about your needs in terms of feedback, input, and direction. If your manager is excessively interfering in your work, setting boundaries may be necessary. Transparent expectations can reduce their need to micromanage and give you more autonomy.

Ask for feedback: Once you've established the best way to give and receive feedback, ask for it regularly. This will demonstrate your willingness to improve and learn from their expertise. 

Be proactive: Take the initiative to complete tasks and make decisions on your own where you can, to demonstrate your competence.

Build trust: Micromanagers often lack trust in their employees. Take steps to build trust with your manager by consistently delivering high-quality work and meeting deadlines.

Stay organised: Tidy house, tidy mind! Keep your work organised and up to date, so that your manager can see your progress - which will reduce the need for constant check-ins.

Seek support: If the situation becomes unbearable, seek support from other colleagues, HR, or a mentor. They can advise and help you to navigate the situation.

Overall, dealing with a micromanager requires patience, communication, and proactive problem-solving. By taking steps to understand your manager's perspective, communicate clearly, and build trust, you can effectively navigate the situation and improve your working relationship with your manager.

Plenty of jobs require candidates with solid management and leadership skills, as they are critical for achieving organisational goals. Submit your CV for a free review to see if your skillset is showcased in the best way.

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