At least half the people I coach complain to me about a micromanaging boss.
The irony, which I won’t dwell on today, is that several of them lean towards micromanagement themselves. The fact is, micromanagement is widespread and it can be a miserable situation to find yourself in.
Your boss doesn’t trust you to do anything on your own
You think you’ve done all the right things and then your boss changes the rules
You have creative ideas and your boss is too narrow minded even to consider them
Every time you try to take initiative and move things forward, you get shut down
Your boss complains that she has to do everything, but won’t let you actually do anything
Over months and years of micromanagement, you’ve started to doubt yourself
Any of these sound familiar? Its infuriating honestly. You feel like you’re caught in a trap and there is no way out. You try to be proactive and take the initiative and you get shut down. You don’t take initiative and you get criticized for not being a leader. It’s enough to drive a person mad.
With enough time working for a micromanager, we all lose confidence. We lose an entire part of who we once were. We become defensive and cautious. We walk on eggshells. We question ourselves. I remember living in this micromanagement zone for some of the worst years of my career. It’s sad and hard to recover from.
I won’t sugar coat this for you. There is no easy way out of a micromanagement situation. There’s no “3 tips to fix it all”. Unfortunately, that’s just not reality and anyone who tells you it is, isn’t being honest with you or themselves. There is no magic bullet to fix it completely, but you can make things better. You can find a way to be successful and happier working for a micromanager.
Here are my suggestions when you find yourself working for a micromanager:
1. Change your mindset
Most of us, when facing a micromanaging boss, focus on how unfair it is. We fight against it, we complain, we gripe and gossip with our coworkers, we imagine ways we can force our boss to change. This is a mistake. If you’re doing this, I have to tell you, you’re focusing on the wrong things. My recommendation is to step back from the situation for a moment and reorient your mindset. When I’m faced with a micromanager I ask myself: “How can I be successful in this situation?”. “How can I adjust my approach so I can come out on top?”
Stop complaining, stop fighting, start planning your path to success. I realize that is easier said than done, but there is no other way. You don’t get to change your boss. But you can find a way to be successful in just about any scenario.
2. Avoid the temptation to pursue the “Tadaaaa” moment
The tendency, when working for a micromanager, is to try and prove your worth by demonstrating you can work independently. You’ve been dinged a few times; your boss seems not to trust you, so you set out to prove to her that she can. You go off on your own, work 24-7 on a solo mission with visions of dropping a huge win on her lap … tadaaaa – look at me!!
Don’t do this. That is exactly the opposite of the approach you should be taking to make things work with a micromanaging boss. If you go off on your own and try to deliver some monster win to prove that you can be trusted, it will backfire 9 times out of 10. It backfires because it’s completely ignoring the reason WHY your boss is a micromanager in the first place. He hates the unknown. He’s afraid of losing control. He’s anxious about change. Going rogue, even if it is backed by the best of intentions, is the last thing you want to do.
My recommendation is to avoid the temptation to prove your independence. You can’t fix the situation by making your boss even more uncomfortable. Stop proving and start helping.
3. Bring your boss closer … earlier
Instead of proving yourself, you should be focusing on helping your boss be successful. The more successful your boss is, the less fear she will have. The less fear she has, the less she will seek to control everything. Instead of pushing a micromanaging boss away, I’ll bring him closer. There are a few simple things you can do to bring your boss closer without making your own life miserable. If I’m about to undertake a new project, I might do the following things:
Set up early collaboration sessions with your boss to build the objectives and plan.
Involve your boss in building the skeleton or outline of a presentation or document.
Proactively give updates on a daily or weekly basis depending on the scope of the project.
Proactively review all materials with your boss before sharing them broadly
By collaborating with your boss earlier and more frequently, your projects are much more likely to be successful. You’re far less likely to get way off track or be surprised by negative feedback in the later stages of the initiative. You may feel you shouldn’t have to do this at your level, or that this robs you of your independence. I would argue that this is the optimal path for the scenario you’re in. It’s the best path to success. The more success you enjoy, the more opportunities you’ll have to improve your situation. If success isn’t worth this level of sacrifice, or the situation is unbearably negative, you should start looking for a new job.
4. Create a position of strength before having the big conversation
Eventually, you are going to want to talk to your boss about how you feel. It’s really not healthy to work for a micromanager in the long term. I did it for far too long and it hurt me. The problem is, too many of us have this conversation when we’re in a weak position. We explode when a project has gone off the rails or after we’ve been criticized for doing poor work or for not providing enough visibility. We wait and wait and wait and then finally have the discussion when we can’t take it anymore – when we’re at our weakest. This is exactly the opposite of what you should do.
My recommendation is to start by building credibility with your boss. Use the tips I’ve shared. Help your boss, bring her closer, find a few wins, and then in a calm, positive moment, have the conversation.
Inevitably we all end up working for a micromanager. When we’re in the early stages of our careers we tell ourselves it will go away when we’re more senior. When we’re more senior we tell ourselves it will go away when we’re an executive. It doesn’t go away. Micromanagement is a byproduct of fear and fear doesn’t care about titles.
As difficult as it may seem, my advice is to stop complaining and fighting against your micromanager, and start finding ways to be successful. It can be done. And the more success you find, the more opportunities will come to you and the stronger your position will be when you ultimately need to have the big conversation with your boss.
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