Boss Is Having a Hard Time Letting Go of the Details? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am the director of ecommerce marketing for a fairly new and innovative global digital logistics company. The marketing team is huge; there are three other directors for other kinds of marketing and we are all very busy.

My problem is with my boss, our CMO. She is brilliant, she does a great job with strategy, and all her teams have clear mandates—and apparently, we are all getting great results. The problem is that she often gets into the weeds. She has a huge job, and yet she insists on reading every blog, looking at every word of copy, and vetting every little thing we do. We end up losing a lot of time waiting for her to approve everything, which sometimes interferes with our timelines.

Things move fast in our business. We need to be able to make decisions and move quickly. Our value statements and messaging tracks have been carefully crafted, and there is very little chance that we are going to make any huge errors. But my boss always seems stressed and overwhelmed, and I am sure her insistence on micromanaging is at least partially responsible.

It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Sometimes I want to ask her if she doesn’t have better things to do than watch us like a hawk. I admire her and we have a good relationship, but I don’t know how to share this feedback with her.

Boss in The Weeds


Dear Boss in The Weeds,

It is incredibly common for senior leaders to have a hard time letting go. The attention to detail and dedicated oversight you describe is what got your boss promoted to her executive job. Somehow she didn’t get the memo that she can’t, and shouldn’t, do things the same way she used to. She will have to figure this out soon or she will alienate her directors or simply burn out. I recently included that exact point in an article published on the CLO website: 12 Things Your Executive Coach Wants You to Know. You may want to share it with your boss. Here is the excerpt:

“What got you here (really) won’t get you there. Marshall Goldsmith wins the award for best book title because truer words have never been said. Most people are promoted to managing others because they are exemplary individual contributors, which does not predict management talent. The next move from managing individuals to managing managers requires an entirely new perspective and a different set of skills. And the same is true when leaders move from managing managers to managing businesses. When people are promoted, they often believe they can rely on what they have always done that has made them successful. In fact, doing those things will get in the way of trying and getting good at new things.”

It is hard for a subordinate to give the kind of feedback you want to give. I understand why you want to ask her the question you mention, but that won’t get you the result you are looking for.

You could, however, try another approach; something along the lines of “Hey, I want you to know that I think my job is to make your job easier. I notice you seem to have a hard time trusting me and my team. I wonder what evidence you would need to be able to trust that we know what we are doing and we won’t disappoint you. I would love for you to be able to focus on the 90 shmillion other things you need to be paying attention to.”

You may learn something. Your boss may share concerns she has—what she is afraid might happen. She may take the opportunity to articulate for you the evidence that would make a difference for her. Or she may take a moment to think about it and change the way she supervises you and your team.  It is entirely possible that the two of you will come up with some kind of weekly review that will maintain her comfort level and let you get on with things. Consider drafting an example of what one could look like.

Then again, she may not bite.

To solve your immediate conundrum, you could start letting her know her deadlines for signing off on things so that your deliverables aren’t late. Ultimately, though, this isn’t really your problem. She has to figure out for herself out how to let go. If she is willing to let you help her with that, great! If she isn’t, well, she will get the life she has.

It is nice that you care. It’s worth taking a shot.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

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