Almost everyone can recognize micromanaging boss characteristics from a mile away — and most of us have worked for one. This is the boss who delegates work to you and then re-does everything you do, or has you revise it over and over again, usually to meet some unclear standard. Micromanagers have a terrible reputation in the business world. But why? What’s so awful about caring about the details and making sure they are right?

There are indeed some fields of work in which micromanagement is essential. For example, I want my brain surgeon to be a micromanager — a perfectionist who is obsessed with every detail of his or her own work and that of the team. But in most fields, micromanagement is a huge problem, for the following reasons:

The 8 micromanaging boss characteristics to watch out for

  1. It interferes with the learning and development of the manager’s staff. If the manager can’t trust them to do their own work, they will never grow to be competent, autonomous leaders.
  2. It undermines team morale. People get very frustrated when their manager never approves their work or gives them the space to do it in their own way. 
  3. Consequently, micromanagement can lead to increased absenteeism and staff turnover.
  4. Micromanagement is inefficient. The manager becomes a roadblock who slows down the completion of tasks, reducing productivity.
  5. It decreases motivation. Why try hard if it’s never going to be right?
  6. It is disrespectful. A micromanager treats his or her people as if they are incompetent children. In the worst cases, the manager even talks about his or her staff in a disparaging manner.
  7. Micromanagement reduces the manager’s effectiveness because he or she is doing the work of lower-level employees rather than the strategic or administrative oversight that is his or her real job. 
  8. At its worst, working for a micromanager can lead to physical and psychological symptoms in the employees, resulting in increased health care costs for the organization.

If micromanagement is so destructive, why do so many managers do it? There are several possible drivers. One of the most common is highlighted in Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Goldsmith observes that people get promoted because they are good at their job. It’s very natural to keep doing what you’re good at and what you were rewarded for. Except that’s no longer your job, so you have to learn to let go and focus on the responsibilities of your new role. And that’s hard.

Another driver can be cognitive style. Some people are detail-oriented. They are comfortable dealing with details and less at ease with managing others or thinking about big-picture issues. They may have been promoted into a leadership role that really doesn’t suit them, and they’d be better off as high-performing solo contributors.

A third driver is arrogance. Some people are convinced that no one else could possibly be as smart or creative or conscientious as they are — and nothing will convince them otherwise. Unless they learn some humility, these people will never be effective managers. 

My favorite quote about micromanagement comes from my friend Jason Osterhage, a Senior Vice President at Alliant Credit Union:

“Micromanagement is always mismanagement. You will never find me micromanaging. Instead, I will do my job — and some of my boss’s job if they will let me. I will support you as you do your job — and even as you do some of my job if you’d like. If you are unable or unwilling to do your job, then we’ll have to directly address that problem. There is no scenario where I do my job and your job and you get to keep your job.”

That about says it.

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