How to Deal with a Micromanaging Boss


When you interviewed for your job, your manager told you that they liked to stay on top of things. What you didn’t understand at the time was that they would be micromanaging you.  Each step you take is double (or triple) checked and you feel that you don’t have the autonomy to make regular day-to-day decisions.  But don’t despair, there are ways to deal with a micromanaging boss and gain the independence you need to enjoy your role.

Why Micromanage
Most people who micromanage do so because they fear a loss of control. They have a general belief that work will not be done to their standard, and so have trouble trusting that their direct reports will be able to deliver. Remember, this has little to do with your competency and everything to do, likely, with your boss’ internal stress. 

Read: Do you think you might have micromanaging tendencies?  Read “How to Stop Micromanaging Your Finance Team” for practical advice on giving your direct reports more autonomy.

Identify the Cause
By recognizing the root causes of your boss’ anxiety you can figure out how to respond. Are they faced with unreasonable expectations from above? Were they burned before by offering too much latitude to previous employees? Is their job on the line because of an upcoming merger or acquisition? Is this a cultural issue, where this kind of behaviour is encouraged? 

According to this article in Forbes, the irony of being a manager is that “the higher up you move in the hierarchy, the less direct control you have. This loss of control often comes as a shock to bosses and that, in turn, sparks their anxiety.”

Build Trust
Identify what your manager cares most about and show that they can trust you to deliver. Openly seek feedback at critical junctures of a project or report.  Most of all, ask a simple question, “How can I help?”

Establish Expectations
Establish expectations in advance if possible.  Asking questions that show a collaborative approach right off the bat can alleviate your boss’ stress.  

  • Who would you recommend I approach to source this data/information?
  • Is there a former example of how you liked this done that I can refer to?
  • I want to make sure I prioritize what is important to you and the team. In your opinion where does this fit in the big picture?  Is it prioritized ahead of a, b or c?
  • What is most important to you about this project or initiative?

Reinforce the fact that you know that your boss has a lot on their plate. State that you are focused on meeting their expectations.

Take the initiative and schedule specific times for when you will check-in. Keep your manager informed and consider sending an unprompted email or two updating your progress on a project or report. If you need clarification on an issue, don’t wait until the 11th hour to talk to your manager. This will only increase their anxiety. 

Should You Give Feedback?
This is tricky. If you express that you are feeling micromanaged, you may simply get more of it, particularly if it’s based in anxiety or power. If you think your manager is well-meaning and open to hearing feedback, however, consider asking for a one-on-one. Focus on presenting your message positively, “What I value about you is how committed you are to going the extra mile and how you inspire me to produce my best work.  I like that you see the big picture and help me see it too.  One of the things that makes me really enjoy my job though is autonomy – the ability to make decisions freely within the guidelines of the team and organization. It’s helped me grow a lot in past roles. Is there anything I could do to earn your trust even more and gain additional autonomy?”  The most important thing is to make it a collaborative conversation, where you are leaving the ball in their court to meet a reasonable request.

Key Takeaways
Use strong, proactive communication skills to deal successfully with a manager who is overly controlling.  Try to understand the source of the anxiety that is fueling the need to control. Attempt to alleviate that anxiety by delivering in areas your boss is most concerned about. Proactively seek out their feedback, and make sure to keep them in the loop.  This will help you build trust and hopefully earn you the autonomy that you need.

Your Next Step
No one should walk the job search or hiring road alone. At Clarity Recruitment we help others realize their success through a process that marries proprietary technology with unwavering commitment. Contact us today to take control of your career, or to partner with us to hire well.

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