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How to Help Micromanagers Get Better Results

Some managers who’ve risen through the ranks become overly controlling once they begin to exercise authority. They squelch subordinates’ ability to take risks, develop, and contribute, both individually and collectively. Here are two examples I’ve worked with recently:

The Dictatorial Isolationist

Anastasia is a transactional, concrete kind of boss. Relationships and fresh thinking don’t impress her. She relates quality of performance to hours worked, visible effort, and immediate responsiveness. Appropriate outcomes aren’t sufficient; she only cares about whether team members do everything the way she wants it.

“Even if conditions change, don’t extrapolate,” Anastasia tells her team. “Come to me, and I’ll say exactly what I want you to do under the new circumstances. I want things done the way I want them done!”

Anastasia never shares the framing of issues, decision-making, or the podium. She also ensures that no one on her team gets to speak with her boss or other executives. By making herself the only source of direction and evaluation, she restricts the business to her personal limits.

The Dismissive Perfectionist

Alden achieved success by managing implementation and tactics, so he’s convinced that knowing every detail is crucial. He has no confidence in people who don’t have complete command over their facts and figures, or don’t share his passion for execution.

Regardless of his team members’ skill levels, Alden won’t respect them if they’re not simultaneously smart and tough. If they fold when he leans on them, he dismisses them permanently. His stance is: “You have to perform the way I would, or I’m entitled to disrespect and criticize you.” He won’t tolerate any kind of vulnerability or questioning except for “What’s the right way to do this, sir?”

Alden assumes he knows everything there is to know, so he refuses to consider new approaches or opportunities. He relies completely on his own history and ability to speak to all details, and doesn’t see how this undercuts the team’s credibility — and therefore his own.

Micromanagers Overlook Opportunities

Dictatorial, dismissive leaders may feel comfortable with old-fashioned command and control, but they lose out on the benefits of collaborative give-and-take. They’re not looking for participation or insight, so they miss the chance to share the value of their perspectives and experiences with the team, and disregard requests for clarification and others’ efforts at innovation.

If You Work for a Micromanager

If you report to a leader like Anastasia or Alden, forget direct challenges, because they need to maintain the feeling of being totally in control. They can’t tolerate your input unless it helps them look like they run a tight ship. Here are some suggestions for coping:

  • If you make it clear that you want to learn from them — and there may actually be utility to learning what’s worked for them — these leaders may be pleased to explain how they rose through the ranks — as long as they’re sure you won’t undermine or challenge them.
  • Conduct dry runs or rehearsals before presentations to avoid making mistakes in front of them.
  • When you need them to set priorities among competing requirements, demonstrate a combination of loyalty and compliance. Lay out the options concretely in reference to their goals: “You, Boss, get to make the decisions. This is how the new event will affect our current structure. Do you want A, which means this? Or B, which means that?” Then stand back, let them choose, and thank them for their direction.
  • Once you’ve learned all you can, if you see no further opportunity to forward your own career, you may need to look for another opportunity, either internally or externally.

If a Micromanager Reports to You

Overly controlling leaders stifle innovation, suppress staff growth and development, and hold your business back. Their rigidity is especially dangerous if the business is going through a hard time, and it’s inherently an unproductive stance in the face of an ever-changing marketplace and regulatory environment.

Typically, dictatorial executives will only take feedback from people they think are stronger and more competent than themselves. In fact, despite their own command-and-control stance, they may not comply with a boss who takes a conciliatory or collaborative approach.

It can be helpful to appeal to a rigid exec’s pride with a little tough talk: “If you’re not willing to be more open to your people, you’ll only be effective as a sole contributor or implementer, not as an organizational leader.”

Unfortunately, though, these individuals can be so inflexible that it’s all but impossible for them to adjust, and their executional prowess is unlikely to outweigh their negative impact on employees and organizational culture. In the long term, there may be no place for them in the organization.

Onward and upward,

LK

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