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I'll Do It Myself

Back_offLiving with a toddler means that you'll hear the phrase, "I'll do it myself" a lot between the ages of two and four.  The kids are trying to assert their independence and it's up to us parents to figure out when to intervene and take over and when to back off and let our kids make a few mistakes.  It's all part of the learning process.

When you have an overbearing parent, the child never learns how to do things for himself.  Even simple tasks become long drawn-out chores over time because the child hasn't learned how to manage them.  In my master's leadership class a couple of weekends ago, I heard some of my students bemoaning the fact that they were working for micromanagers.  One shared that her manager couldn't even insert a picture in PowerPoint by herself, but she would stand over the employee's back and instruct her how to do it.  I've worked for managers who wanted to have a hand in every single email or deliverable that went out the door.  Michael Sheeley shared some great ideas for new managers to prevent them from becoming micromanagers.  But what if you are the subordinate who is dealing with the micromanager?  Since the balance of power is not in your favor, do you have a game plan for handling that scenario?

In short, the answer is yes, you can upwardly handle a micromanager, but it does take some finesse.  Micromanaging is a form of bullying, and there are some control and perception issues at stake.  Here are a few ideas and tips I've used in that arena:

  • Stroke the ego - I've used phrases like "Certainly someone of your importance doesn't have time to look over my shoulder on such a trivial task."  This becomes a catch-22 for the micromanager, because if they admit they have the time, then they also have to admit that they're not as important as they thought.
  • Help them practice time management skills - I will suggest to the micromanager that it is in their best interest to let me take the task or the project to a certain level, and then schedule check-points with them before proceeding.  This gives me some wiggle room to do things my own way and then to share the results and output with them.  Try setting up end-of-day recap meetings for 15-30 minutes.
  • Multiple choice - when you come to an impasse, go to the micromanager with multiple solutions (that you've researched as much as you can), share your ideas with them and let them know that their final say is important.  At least you've provided them with a series of choices that are of your design, but you've still left the final decision with them.
  • Their Idea - one of my favorite scenes in the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is when the Mom and the Aunt work over the Dad to make him come to the conclusion they want about the daughter's choice of employment.  "The man may be the head of the house," admonishes the mom, "but the woman controls the neck."  Don't be afraid to try to basic manipulation techniques on the micromanager, but only if you can successfully let him think it was his idea all along.
  • Better to ask forgiveness - if the micromanager is more of the hit-and-run type, sometimes I will go ahead and make progress.  If I get in trouble, I'll pull the "sorry, didn't know I wasn't allowed to make that decision" comment.  I've made more progress on projects that way.  If you just don't wait for the micromanager, you can get a lot done.  (WARNING:  This one can backfire and cause even more micromanagement if you screw up.)

So, what are your thoughts on dealing with a micromanager?

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Comments

Michelle Malay Carter

Understanding the root cause of micromanagement can give an additional perspective on your options for dealing with it.

Essentially, micromanagement comes about when my current cognitive capability is at the same level as my manager. What that means is that the kinds of problems and the level of issues I enjoy solving are equal to those that my manager enjoys and is capable of solving. Hence we want to do the same work and the power struggle ensues.

Generally, nothing is inherently wrong with the micromanager or with you the suffering direct report. Both of you are capable of being valuable, competent employees - within the right role.

What is wrong is that one of you is in the wrong level role. Either your manager is over employed or you are underemployed. Which means, either your manager needs to be moved to a lower level role that suits his/her current capability or you need to be promoted out from under this particular manager to a higher level role that suits your capability.

Here's what makes this tricky to see. Cognitive capacity is a separate issue from knowledge, skills, and experience. Your manager may have 10 more years experience than you, but you still may have a higher cognitive capacity for more complex, longer time horizon work. When this is the case, this manager will not be able to provide you suitable leadership. (But that doesn't mean they can't lead. They just can't lead YOU.)

I'm OK. You're OK. Let's fix the system.

Regards,

Michelle

Timothy Johnson

Hi Michelle... you've been taking a page from Tom Haskins' book and reading my mind. I was planning on doing a follow-on post today about the causes of micromanagement but you beat me to it (and said it better than I could have).

I completely agree with your assessment. However, most people who are dealing with a micromanager are caught in the emotional dynamics of the situation. Some will be able to do the type of assessment you mention, but that's probably best suited to HR and/or the micromanager's superiors (both of which are generally oblivious to the situation).

As you alluded in your comment, the result of this mis-match generally creates some level of insecurity with the micromanager, which perpetuates the problem even worse. Many white collar people who are being micro-managed are very capable individuals. In the vein of Douglas MacGregor, it's the Theory X mentality of the micromanager that creates the difficult relationship.

Thanks for commenting. You hit all the right buttons, and you did it well! :)

Michelle Malay Carter

Timothy,

Thank you for your kind words. I have not yet run across Tom Haskin's work. I'll have to check it out.

I was drawing from Elliott Jaques' work levels theory which has a complementary human cognitive capability component which all rolls up into his meta model, Requisite Organization.

Regards,

Michelle

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