Portrait of a Micro-manager
Most people I’ve asked say they’ve worked for a micro-manager. Their frustration shows when they talk about the person who drained joy from their career and under-utilized their skills.
You’re a micro-manager if you:
- Over-estimate your skills and under-estimate the skills of the team.
- Feel misunderstood and unappreciated.
- Hear too many questions.
- See yourself as a doer rather than an enabler.
- Give incremental permission.
- Pride yourself in being on top of everything.
- Check work email on weekends, evenings, and during vacation.
- Criticize too much and affirm too little.
- Need too much information yet give too little.
- View staff development as wasted time.
- Punish mistakes rather than learning from them.
- Hoard power and authority.
- View others as adversaries to be controlled.
- Take credit.
- Prevent initiative.
- Work longer hours than anyone else.
- Frustrate your team.
- Emphasize authority.
- Minimize relationship.
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What qualities do micro-managers possess?
What impact do micro-managers have on individuals, teams, and/or organizations?
A superb list, Dan. You have the outline of a book in a few words.
The underlying issue of micro-managers is focus on self. This drives a need for control and recognition and instills a fear of failure or being replaced that shapes their behavior, and changes their vision from planning and looking forwards to reporting and driving in the rear-view mirror. “Post-mortem” meetings are the norm, rather than after-action reviews. Blame flies around, accompanied by fear. Turnover increases.
If they are top managers, the organization will fail. If they are middle managers, top managers may hesitate to curb or get rid of the “gifted” micro-manager who portrays him/her self as being surrounded by incompetent and lazy people, wasting man-years and causing harm.
Wow Marc…your comment suggest you’ve either been one in the past or worked for one…
Thanks for pointing out the fear factor…perhaps insecurity fits into the discussion, too.
Thanks for your insights.
I’m not sure I believe all micro-managers are selfish. Focusing on the completion of a task rather than the most appropriate way to accomplish a task creates the feeling of being micro-managed. A micro-manager, though possibly selfish, is always an consequentialist/utilitarian thinker.
When an organizational culture demands equal emphasis on the means, as well as the ends – the team (the collective individual talent) can thrive.
Awesome blog post! Shared it on both my Twitter & facebook accounts. Unfortunately I have known micro managers who hit all points of your post. Ive probably been guilty of some of them myself. Thanks for making the micro manager that I didnt know I had in me AWARE!
Thanks for sharing this post with your online connections. Much appreciated. 🙂
I’ve been guilty of these things too.
Thanks. Can you say more about “hear too many questions?” Do you mean they let people come to them too frequently?
I am doing a lot of thinking about questions recently… I also think micromanagers can ask questions that shut people down… I have been on the lookout for those (and connecting with others for their ideas). I am finalizing some writing on that this week. Would love your insights.
Great question Karin.
I love thinking about leader/manager as questioner. I just finished reading Leader as Coach. Obviously questions are important in that role.
Hearing too many questions suggests people aren’t comfortable moving forward without getting sign off from a manager who will probably slam them down for making a mistake.
Too many questions fits into the larger topic of empowerment. Fearful employees ask too many questions. Micro-managers NEED to hear too many questions so their employees learn to ask too many questions.
Too many questions may also suggest that processes, procedures and systems aren’t functioning properly or aren’t in place at all…I wrote about that one: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/2010/11/08/too-many-questions/
I look forward to learning from you on this topic…
I appreciate points suggested. I would add some more- they seek respect and praise, come early, sit late, expect others to sit late, perceive others based on self interest, believe in self advancement,divide and rule philosophy blob….blob.
The most important thing is comparison. They compare with others and make all effort to demean, criticize and discourage others to show that they are superiors than others. Steven Covey has rightly written in his book ” Seven habits of highly effective people” that comparing is cancerous. So, micro managers are cancerous. They make and create un-comfort unnecessarily to everyone around. And by doing this, they think that they are superiors. In fact, such managers have inferiority complex and to overcome they do unfair and unhealthy practices. Self advancement is the key to such practices.
Self praise and boasting is their quality. They create precarious impact on individual, teams and organizations. Such managers least bother about organizations. Instead they are concerned only about their position.
What an insightful and hard-hitting contribution! Thank you Ajay.
As I read your first paragraph a micro-manager came to mind…so true.
Thanks for adding value.
Love the post and the comments. Spot on. I’ve worked for micromanagers, and my enthusiasm and self-esteem disintegrated under the constant barrage of criticism, blame, their need for affirmation, etc. You hired me to do a job so let me do it. I can only describe the environment as toxic. For my mental health and career, I had to find other employment.
At one of those employers, though, we did have a new executive who saw the lack of management development and actively sought to create or enhance development programs for managers who needed it. Meanwhile, the micromanager lost most of his staff. I hope that the executive’s direct reports took advantage of the opportunities he created.
You bring a powerful illustration to the negative impact of micro-managers…Your story is a warning to all organizations that micro managers may get the job done but they also cost companies because of turn over
Nice and concise thought. Your post made me consider actions that I take to improve my organization. Here is the prevailing question that one must ask if they want to know if they are a micromanager. Is the action or behavior that I’m currently doing enabling or stifling the creativity and abilities of those within the org? If it is, I must change. If it is not, I should consider being more effective at doing it.
I have worked and currently work for just such managers. My theory is that they try to promote “yes” men to management positions. At the time they tell themselves it is so they can “mold” them into good managers. The problem with that is you end up with one of those “yes” men at the top. They don’t have to skills to lead or make real decisions and do most of your points above to keep their heads above water. Look out anyone who is actually a leader who tries to do the right thing.
Excellent post…I yuped through all 20 qualities…shared this on twitter…a follow-up post?
This makes me think of a boss I had eight years ago. The qualities he exhibited sound like those listed however, he was also extremely unsupportive. I never felt safe taking on a risky project with him as my manager. That’s one of the biggest reasons I left and started my own company. Everything happens in our lives us for a reason!
Great article and list, succinct and to the point. Yes, I work for one and he add no value. Please do not write a book about this – a numbered list is good for me. I have stopped reading “business” and “management” books, as they can be reduced to a list on a page. Love your work!
What I’ve noticed is that everyone has the potential to micromanage a certain project, but that doesn’t necessarily define the person. It needs to be a pattern, a default management style to earn the label. Most of us despise working for a true micromanager (I know I have worked for one in the past), but oddly I’ve actually seen some people like it. They enjoyed being told what to do and when. They then could blame the boss and take no responsibility. Sure, they complained about it but actually did not move out of it when given the chance. And the results, of course, suffered along with the morale. Thanks for sharing these 20 attributes, Dan.
I worked for a manager like this one. They are liars,too. Manipulative and often cowards. They will not protect you when you are right, they will find a way out to get rid of you so that the situation calms down. Most of the managers are of two extremes. Micromanagers or absolutely aloof. I worked for a manager who did not bother to know what I was doing for months.
I see myself in many of these bullet-points. How do I go about “fixing” them? Any suggestions?
Great post but all the comments so far assume micromanagers are almost deliberately bad. I dont think anyone sets out to be a micromanager but a common trap is for people who are hard working, technically skilled and too helpful to becme “accidential micromanagers”.
Sometimes when we are training people to coach it is a real eye-opener for them learning how they immediately fall into problem solving mode and dont allow their coachees to develop.
Some micromanagers are idiots, but many have just fallen into bad habits from good intentions.
As well as, these 20’s are another definition of the dictatorship manager.
This requires too much self-awareness, something every micro-manager I’ve worked with lacks. Would it be useful to have questions, like “do your employees ask your permission, rather than explain their logic?”
I can’t think of anything else. You micromanaged this blog post!
Micromanaging freezes your players.
Love this post. I have known many folks over the years — some in my current leadership capacity even — who throw around the term micro-manager with great abandon and disregard for what it exactly means. This is a terrific checklist. I’ve already used it. Thanks!
I really like this list, though I wonder about #5: Incremental permission. The way I read this, incremental permission is the process of giving employees increasing levels of autonomy and responsibility as they demonstrate competence. (From this perspective, a micromanager would not give incremental permission but would continue to over manage.) Is what you meant by incremental permission, or did you have another definition in mind?
Great Post! Based on the list, it looks like I work for one of these, and worse, I may have become one. I am an inexperienced, new manager, and I see myself exhibiting more of these traits than I should. How does one work under a micro-manager while not becoming one? How does one change these bad habits?
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Julie Clow: “The Work Revolution”, Robin Ryde: “Never Mind The Bosses”, Lisa Bodell “Kill The Company”, Jody Thompson: “Why Work Sucks: And How To Fix It”, Maddie Grant: “Humanize”, Jason Lauritson: “Social Gravity”, Nilofer Merchant: “The New How”, Paul Herr “Primal Management” and Kevin Kruse “Employee Engagement 2.0” are all members of AWE.
like to invite you to join my group.
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What a stuff oof un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable experience about unexpectedd feelings.
Dan, help, I have a new job and work for a micro-manager! How do I survive long enough to find a new opportunty?