5 Performance Tips When You Are Micro-Managed

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

My recent post on how to overcome a micro-manager came as a bit of a surprise to some.  I wrote it to executives dealing with micro-manager direct reports.  My goal: convert micro-managers to leaders.

Generally conversion only comes from within the micro-manager and the only person they’ll listen to is a supervisor or someone at a higher level in the organization or someone they look up to.  Eliminating micro-management is critically important to creating a culture of leadership. If you want to create a culture of leadership in your organization, please read that post.

Many commented on the post asking about how to deal with bosses and peers who are micro-managers.  So today, we’ll begin with the bosses and in a future post we will also address peers.

Remember we said that micro-management is a fear and control issue.  If you feel your manager is micro-managing you here are 5 steps you can take to begin to reduce or eliminate the practice.

  1. Do your job exceptionally well.  This is the foundation for all trust.  The universal job description is to make your supervisor successful.  The only caveat is when their definition of success doesn’t line up with the success of the organization.  Many micro-managers prefer order over growth or change.  There are ways to help preserve order and still initiate change.  The first step is to do the required position remarkably.
  2. Take your manager’s side.  You must use the best parts of your manager’s expectations to judge whether or not you’re doing a good job.  If you simply apply your own measurements rather than theirs, you increase the tension and magnify the problem.  You must view your own performance through your manager’s eyes. If necessary, when being corrected, ask questions.  Genuinely seek to understand first.  Until you understand your manager, you can’t alleviate the micro-management.
  3. Proactively demonstrate your commitment to the organization AND your manager.  Adapt your behavior to your manager’s requests. Wherever possible, avoid resistance and support.  I’m not talking about sucking up here because that suggests insincerity.  You must be sincere.  Choose today that you will figure out how to make your manager’s request successful.  There are always more ways to do something.  Own making their way successful.  Give their methods greater than 100% effort.
  4. Ask first.  If your managers methods were in-fact your own, what else needs to be done?  What improvements could be made that line up with their requests.  Then, before acting, ask, in private and in a way that doesn’t question their motives but rather by asking if your idea helps or not.  Give them a chance to judge your idea.  If your ideas get “shot-down,” accept it and move on.  Don’t hang on to your old ideas.  Don’t come back in a month and say, “but I asked you about that a month ago.”
  5. Document your understanding and activity.  Avoid CYA, but try to find graceful ways to document your behavior.  When you ask, ask in an email, or ask for a meeting to discuss such-and-such in the email.  Or create an action item list that begins with all of your commitments and any outstanding issues as a confirmation.  Then use that document to keep them informed. Proactively follow up and give them updates in writing too, before they ask.  Show your manager you’re taking initiative.  But in the end, remember you’re going to have to take some risk in order to show that you are trustworthy.

This is by no means exhaustive.  I thought of a couple of others as I was editing.  What other actions would you recommend?  Have you ever been under a micro-manager?  What did you do?  Did it work?  Share your thoughts below and let’s encourage one another and maybe we can build some leaders in the process.

Stay tuned too as I’ll recommend some attitudes that are helpful in my next post on the topic.

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About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Brian W. Kenney  |  08 Oct 2010  |  Reply

Derivative of or augmentative to #1 above. *Accelerate* your exceptional performance. I’ve had a micro [molecular] manager before. Not surprisingly, I desperately needed him to “get out of my kitchen.” I was already performing my assigned duties at a high level. While that did indeed buy me some breathing room it was not enough to allow me to create in peace.

So I accelerated…

I began to produce “More, Better, Faster”. Beating deadlines, anticipating his needs and filling them before he requested them, and providing even more quality work for him to “review and revise.” I’d identify emerging needs- often before he did- and request his input on how to proceed. [Primarily so that he could feel as though he was a contributor]

Soon, his capacity for molecular inspection of my work could not keep pace with the volume and the benefits he began to reap from his superiors sapped his desire/need to worry so much what was going on. In the end, he requested that I check in at the start, the middle, and the end of a project.

To your point, he began to trust.


Mike Henry  |  10 Oct 2010  |  Reply

Great addition. You’ve just got to find the right way to relieve the tension. Thanks for the comment.


Kathy Clark  |  10 Oct 2010  |  Reply

I agree that micromanagement is a control issue. All the above suggestions are great but unfortunately not all bosses or managers have an interest in giving up that control. And even with demonstrating great performance, accountability and support of the manager some will not change behaviors because of their own issues or lack of understanding of empowerment.

Having said all that, in order to overcome this challenge, it needs to be a top-down driven culture change. If a manager has senior leadership trust them, and empower them, to make decisions (even if sometimes they are wrong) they will be more likely to pass that trust down to their subordinates.

Cultures are difficult to change but with good leadership at the top and a well thought out strategy, it can be done.

Mike Henry  |  10 Oct 2010  |  Reply

I agree Kathy. My post previous to this one was about the executives that might find one of their reports was demonstrating some control tendencies. The best way is top down.

Thanks for the great comment. Mike…

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