Managing the Micro Manager (Part Two)

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If you work for a micromanager, it’s easy to feel like giving up. After being second guessed, checked and re-checked, and getting blamed for project delays, you may want to throw in the towel. Your manager is so busy counting trees that he’s forgotten you’re even in a forest. She may be neglecting her own job because she’s so busy doing yours.  If you’re very talented and very determined, you may manage to get things done, but you’re exhausted and furious most of the time. Micromanagers can’t lose; they both take credit for positive results and shift the blame for negative results to their team.

What if you can’t leave your job? How do you cope? In a previous post, I wrote about how to tell whether your manager is open to change. If he’s not, consider these methods for making your work situation bearable.

Jeff Boss, writing for Forbes online, says that micromanagers lack trust. They don’t trust you, and they likely don’t trust themselves, wither. They may feel overwhelmed by their responsibility and terrified of making mistakes. Once you understand how fearful your manager is, you can approach your interactions with more compassion.

You might also take a deep look into how you contribute to the problem. Is there something you’re doing – or not doing – that’s contributing to your manager’s angst? To be fair, have you missed a couple of deadlines in the past or overlooked a couple of key details? You may have created the problem yourself, and if so, only time and sustained excellence will help your manager move on. Stephen Covey famously said, “You can’t talk yourself out of a situation you behave yourself into.”

Look for patterns in your manager’s behavior. You may find it easier to dismiss her as generally unbearable, but it’s probably not the case. Are there certain kinds of projects, particular customers, or specific tasks that seem to create more stress for her and set off her micromanaging behavior? Knowing and acknowledging her triggers can help you keep her calm. “I know you like to stay close to the work when we do a project for ABC Company,  so let’s set up a daily check in  – just 10 minutes or so – so you feel on top of what’s happening on the project day to day.”

Boss suggest you start a project with the end in mind. Ask what your manager thinks success would look like. Then ask about clear guidelines on your roles and responsibilities. “So I’ll be free to choose who to interview and structure the report. You’ll be in charge of proofing the draft and finalizing the recommendations.” I suggest you take great notes, and send your notes to your manager right away, before beginning the project. You’ll have a written record of what you agreed to that you can point him back to when he lapses into his old ways.

Meeting expectations is almost never good enough for a micromanager; she’ll always be moving the bar so you never quite achieving what she considers to be excellent work. Your only hope of success, says Jeff Boss, is to plan to do more than she asks. If you commit to finishing the report by Friday, hand it in Wednesday. If you said you’d do three interviews, do four. Surprise works in your favor, as does giving more than you’re asked to.

Finally, plan to overcommunicate with your manager. Send weekly reports; let him know early when something might be headed south. Ask when you need help. Reading reports will keep him busy, and he’ll gradually learn to trust that you are on top of things and will let him know when his intervention is really needed.


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