Micromanagers Anonymous

``Please micromanage me.`` Said no employee, ever.

by Bob Tipton

I’ve been following a variety of job- and career-related surveys over the past several years, and something big comes to mind from the data.  People don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers.  The top two reasons employees voluntarily leave their jobs? Poor leadership, and bad relationships with their bosses. And, a “general perspective” (shared by SHRM, the Society for HR Management) indicates that it costs about 1.5 a person’s salary to replace that person (training, recruiting, lost productivity, etc.).

The costs to organizations that have bad bosses masquerading as micromanagers are unfortunately often hidden… Or rationalized…  Or excused.  That’s scary — or should be.

Okay — I can hear some of you saying, “But what’s my alternative? I HAVE to micromanage — otherwise nothing gets done!”  As a result, often those who are described (by others) as micromanagers don’t see themselves that way.

In my experience, most micromanagers secretly congratulate themselves on their ability to get things done, to make things happen — especially in the face of so many “unworthy” subordinates with whom they have to deal.

It’s a sickness — a sickness born out of fear, and a sickness that’s grown to epidemic proportions because of the economic meltdown in recent history, and our society’s collective addiction to certainty.

What do we do about epidemics? We find a cure, and in this case, I’m proposing creating the group called “Micromanagers Anonymous (MA).”

“Hi, my name is Earl, and I’m a micromanager…”

 Eventually, ALL Micromanagers Fail

Now — there are RARE circumstance where short-term micromanagement is justified (like a flight attendant directing passengers immediately following a plane crash), but outside of emergencies, taken in the long-term view, micromanagement FAILS every time, eventually.

Why? Either the micromanager mentally burns to a crisp, and winds up drooling while chanting TV commercial slogans from the 60s as they bang their head on the wall, or they create such performance and quality bottlenecks in their organization that they become the source of significant problems.

Either way, the micromanager fails — and their organizations, employees, products, stakeholders, etc. are short-changed along the way. Remember, micromanagement is about the fear of being out of control. And it can be a form of bullying — taken to an extreme… At one end of the continuum are the worry-warts of the world — at the other end are dictators like Hitler and Stalin (And all dictators throughout history have failed. ALL of them).

The micromanaging manager will eventually move from hero to zero. Count on it.

What To Do About It?

First — let’s recognize that the VAST majority of micromanagement out there today is environmental, and not personality based. “Some” people are just going to be micromanagers, no matter what — but I don’t believe that’s representative of the majority of micromanaging managers.


Simple. The economy, the pressure to do more with less faster, and the resulting fear of losing a job has created a climate RIPE for micromanagement. It’s as if many managers believe they CAN’T AFFORD (literally and metaphorically) to run the personal risk to trust their subordinates. Strangely (and unhealthily), the pressure and fear of losing their own job makes it seem “safer” for the manager not only to do his or her own job, but do all the jobs of all their employees at the same time.

Again, it’s a sickness.

Further, this disease is also highly contagious — get a micromanager in the executive ranks, and watch out. It’ll spread like bad gossip. Even the biggest blue-sky thinker, the most right-brained person, the most empathetic, compassionate, and trusting individual can become addicted to micromanagement — given the right set of circumstances.

Whether it’s with your children (and your fear that their study habits will disallow entry into Stanford, MIT, etc.), your homeowner’s association (and the height of your neighbor’s fence, the color of the house across the street, etc.), your bike club, your work team, or your __________, ALL of us can become addicts to micromanaging if we’re pushed too far into fear and discomfort.

Again, ANYONE can become a micromanager.

Therefore, rather than just condemning the person who may be micromanaging you at work, maybe we could look at the circumstances that caused them to act that way in the first place. Let’s look at helping them instead of condemning them. What a difference that might make!

 Some Other Resources

Here’s a REALLY cool video from RSA Animate (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce — part of the British Government) that talks about Daniel Pink’s book, “Drive”. This video has good medicine for micromanagers, and I nominate it to be permanently included in the Micromanagers Anonymous hall of fame. It’s 10 minutes of amazing.

How do you cure MA? By understanding just what motivates “real” productivity.

Micromanagers take heart. There’s help out there for you — and for your employees as a result. Be bold, be brave, be accountable, and be about becoming a trusting, coaching, empowering leader! The world needs you to do that instead.

You need you to do this instead too. You know it.

  • Bruce Oyler
    Posted at 21:13h, 17 May Reply

    You nailed it again Bob. Enjoyed the video also.

    • teamtiptonadmin
      Posted at 23:05h, 17 May Reply

      Thank you, Bruce! Great to hear from you.

  • Michael Kritenbrink
    Posted at 20:22h, 22 May Reply

    Bob, excellent points! I’ve always been mindful of trying not to be a micromanager by providing the who, what, where, when and why (the guidelines and boundaries) and then letting people determine the how and then simply provide support and coaching/mentoring. Certainly the Marine Corps’ decentralized command and control, commander’s intent, and reliance on small unit leadership has helped. But at times, I’ve swung so far to avoid not micromanaging that I did not provide the needed management and oversight.

    I enjoyed reading your post! I hope you are well.

    • teamtiptonadmin
      Posted at 20:42h, 22 May Reply

      Thanks, Mike! And, you’re right — there’s a balance between providing direction and going too far into control. We actually perform better if we have some reasonable and appropriate constraints (guard rails), and then are empowered to do our jobs. See you soon!

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