6 Ways to Beat the Misery of Micromanagement

Needing to know everything that happens at work can make your business sluggish and everyone around you frustrated. Here are the real reasons for the behavior and what to do about it.

Being a micro-manager or being managed by a micro-manager makes life hell. Take the time to figure out why this constricting behavior is so annoying and take steps to work together more effectively.

Once you learn to look past the obvious, and get down to core issues, it’s easier to make adjustments. I learned this working with Jack’s leadership team.

People couldn’t stand him and there was going to be a mutiny. Either he would have to leave or many were ready to bolt. Jack was, they all said, a lousy site head.

The comments from his team were variations on a theme. “He calls at least once an hour and wants to know what I am doing. I guess I have to tell him, after all he’s my boss. However I lose valuable time and it makes me super angry.” Or…

“Look, we are an entrepreneurial start up and we are a hand-picked group. Why doesn’t he trust us?” Or…

“My mother was a major checker-upper when I was growing up and she’s an amateur compared to Jack.”

If you are like Jack it’s time to understand the addiction of micromanaging. Yes, it is an addiction, you are addicted to “the need to know.”

Let me explain. Micro-managers often feel left out. And when that feeling shows up it creates an emptiness, a void, a fear that something will crash and burn unless you can make sure you are in the loop. And so you fill that empty place, not with alcohol, but with information.


Red alert!

This is when you need to look in your emotional rear view mirror and go back to earlier times in your life when you felt that emptiness, void or fear. It’s time to connect the dots from the past to the present.

Let’s see how Jack made changes. After I heard all the complaints from Jack’s team we had a coaching session to figure out a better way for him to lead. He was surprised that his reports saw him as overbearing and obsessive with his need to constantly check in.

Jack was defensive and angry. “After all, isn’t that what a great boss does? I think I’m supposed to know what is going on so I can report to the CEO and she’ll know I have everything under control.”

With some prodding he finally decided to find the source of his need to know. He thought back to a memory from middle school when he was not invited to lots of birthday parties. He felt helpless and ignored. Finally Jack had an “aha” moment. He realized that way back then he vowed he would get all the facts, know everything that was going on both in school and after school so he could make sure never to be left out. He got it! For Jack being left out of the loop meant disappointment and failure.


Addiction recovery is on the way.

Here are steps to make sure you can tackle this very common addiction and leave it behind you:

  • Observe: Keep a notebook and jot down every time you think “I MUST” know what he/she/they are doing. More than three times in less than an hour and your addiction is kicking in.
  • Understand: Take the time to use your memory and find when anxiety showed up especially between the ages of nine and thirteen and when you felt left out.
  • Transform: Make an effort to hold back your need to know by waiting several hours or a whole day before you think “I MUST” check in.
  • Talk: Tell your team you want feedback and you are ready to give them more room (you will hear an audible sigh of relief).
  • Set: Have real time limits and a schedule for reporting on projects that are realistic for all of you.
  • Find: There is a balance point between too much involvement and too little and this is your grand experiment. Get to the sweet spot in the middle.

Like any other addiction, it takes time to control. Studies show that if you give it ninety days you will be on the other side of the compulsion to need to know everything. Every day you make the commitment to catch yourself getting ready to call someone and ask them “what’s going on?” Stop and breathe before you respond. Ask yourself what you really need to know and if it can wait. Chances are good that you ca hold off. The good news is then you will find more time for creative work and the over the top stress of being everywhere all the time will simply disappear.


Originally published at Inc

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