Managing the Micromanaging Boss

Though the words from my coaching clients can vary, the sentiment is often the same: “My boss is a micromanager. He keeps looking over my shoulder and it drives me crazy!

Is your boss a micromanager? Have you worked for one in the past?

If you are currently struggling under a highly directive boss, here’s something to consider: it may not be a pathological problem on their part. I’ve found that micromanaging can sometimes indicate the boss just doesn’t trust you. Until there’s sufficient trust, the behavior that comes out ends up looking and feeling like micromanaging.

Certainly, for some bosses, it’s pathological. They’re control freaks that think they’re only managing effectively when they keep their hands on all the details. If they know as much or more than you, it’s a good day for them. If they can out-geek you, out-work you, and keep prodding you to do more because of them, they are content to be channeling their inner Drucker.

Trying to change that boss is fruitless.  At some point, if it becomes too much to bear, your best bet may be to plan a jail break to a different team or company. Life is too short.

But what if it’s an issue of trust? Or what if you at least considered this as a possibility and took the initiative to treat it as such? That sure beats being cast as the victim in the play called Your Job and is certainly can take less birthdays than waiting for the boss to change. And let’s face it, especially in a down economy, jail breaks aren’t that easy to pull off in the short term!

So what do you do? Here are some ideas for your consideration:

  • Find out what really matters to your boss. In my interview with author Dave Po-Chedley, he suggests we must learn to “know our boss’ buying habits”. Consider questions, such as “How does he or she make decisions? What are their hot buttons? Triggers? Who are they most influenced by?” When you learn what really matters to your boss, you can begin interacting with them in a whole new way. You speak their language. They might just begin to realize that you understand them and their needs and back off–at least a little.
  • Make it clear that you’re on their team. Since you report to them, you are obviously on their team. But beyond the org chart, is it clear you are truly on their team? Is it obvious to your boss that you understand their priorities and make them your own? Do you actively seek to make their problems go away? Or might they rather perceive you as someone who just backs the truck up and unloads another pile of grief for them? One important factor of trust is intentions. When they see that you have their best intentions in mind–that you are their advocate, that you have their back–it’s easier to gain their trust.
  • Manage expectations and then deliver on them. Anyone can talk a good game. As a Chief Information Officer once told me, “Credibility is currency.” Leadership expert and best-selling author Jim Kouzes told me in an interview, credibility comes down to “Do What You Say You Will Do” (which Jim and his co-author Barry Pozner abbreviate as DWYSYWD). My friend and HP executive Len Greski once shared with me his definition of integrity: “minimizing the variance between what you say and what you do.” Since integrity is a key factor in trust, don’t whine about a micromanaging boss if you and your team aren’t delivering according to expectations. Build up currency by managing and delivering on expectations.

I’ve lived under the reign of a micromanaging boss. I’ve sung the chorus along with you: “They’re driving me crazy!” Bosses like this can make us angry and anxious. If I’ve learned anything in this area it’s that one of the best antidotes for anxiety is action. These steps help move us from being a victim to being a leader.

Here’s to less looking over your shoulder!

P.S. We tackle issues like these in our workshops and keynotes on leadership and project management. Visit our website to learn more about bringing Andy into your organization to help your organization improve it’s ability to deliver project and lead teams.

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