Micromanaging: Who’s at fault?

Have you ever had a boss who
literally looked over your shoulder while you’re typing a memo or telling you
how to do work at which you already are proficient, or second guesses every
decision you make. This action have been described by many experts as micromanaging,
which can lead to several negative occurrences in your office or organization,
such as lack of creativity, codependence on the boss and lack of development
and learning opportunities for the employee. Micromanaging impedes the progress
of work flow so everything becomes a bottleneck. The ultimate result is the
downgrade of morale among employees and team members. This management style has
been around well before the word micromanager became part of our lexicon. In
1946, Peter Drucker, referred to as the “ultimate of management gurus,” called
for a “democracy of management” whereby organizations should decentralize and
delegate greater decision-making authority to employees (as cited in White,
2010). The first mention of the term micromanager appeared in The Economist (check)

An article in The HR
(April 2011) describes this style as an inefficient use of time that
brings about distrust between the employee and his/her manager. The employee is
inhibited from taking the initiative in making decisions for fear the work will
be second-guessed their work. To quote Theodore Roosevelt, “The best executive
is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and
self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” But,
what if the boss has cause to meddle or look over the shoulder of an employee.
Who should be at fault for this behavior?

Some reasons why bosses micromanage

An employee who is
inefficient may be part of the problem. In some cases, poor work could be
remedied if organizations had set standards to go by. In most traditional
organizations, there are no standards and measurements to use (ref). If this is
the case, then managers must enforce standards and goals throughout the

Another reason for micromanaging
is that employees take advantage of being left unwatched by making personal
phone calls and talking for hours on end. They also may take long lunch breaks or
turn in work that has not been checked. Employees need to be accountable by
putting forth their best effort at all times. This extra effort will get the manager’s
attention and possibly end the micromanaging.

To restore a manager’s confidence
and trust, the employee needs to identify areas that need improvement and discuss
them with the boss. Here’s how to bring quick resolution to reestablish trust:

  1. Create
    a list of successful projects you’re worked on and show it to the boss when he
    questions your performance.
  2. Schedule
    a short meeting daily with the boss and lay out what you’re working on and
    where you going with certain projects and tasks.

Hopefully, your boss will
feel better about you and your proactive attitude to resolve the issues that
strain the working relationship.

Effective Managers

The effective manager knows
how to strike a balance between hands-on supervision and instruction without
excessively monitoring employees’ every moment. No matter who is at fault, the
manager must take the lead in resolving the issues. The manager must use his/her
leadership skill and core competencies to identify if the employee is using the
right processes to get the work done and with quality. The manager must avoid
impeding the creativity and productivity of the employee. To quote Chinese’s
leader Lao Tu (2002), “Start with what they know. Build with what they have.
The best of leaders when the job is done, when the task is accomplished, the
people will say we have done it ourselves” (Lao Tzu, 2002).

Key traits of micromanagers

Perhaps the manager is not
efficient him/herself, If the manager is insecure, self-doubting and getting constant
pressure from above, such behavior is normal, even if not  warranted.

Before we place all the
blame on the manager, employees need to take a critical look at themselves to
see is there is a reason for the manager’s actions. Employees need to put forth
their best effort in every part of the job so it will be noticed by the
manager. Perhaps the manager then will have no reason to second-guess the work.

According to an article in The HR Specialist (April 2001), there
are several key signs a micromanager should watch for.

  1. The
    micromanager requires frequent updates and reports on details and procedures
    involving daily tasks and long-term projects. This is his/her way to be on top
    of things.
  2. The
    micromanager believes nobody can make better decisions than they can. Perhaps
    the micromanager has feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.
  3. The
    micromanager rarely delegates responsibility and decision-making to employees;
    in fact he/she will ask the employee to consult with them before making
    decisions and then become irritated when the employee fails to do so. The
    manager may see delegating responsibly as a weakness. Researcher found that
    managers who are reluctant to delegate are those who lack confidence in
    subordinates’ capabilities, or see tasks as being too important to be left to
    subordinates ( n11).

How to stop the micromanagement
leadership style

article in The HR Specialist (April,
2011) lays out four solutions to help micromanagers stop the behavior and find

  1. Clearly
    communicate goal and objectives of the project, plus deadlines. Managers who
    don’t communicate exactly the requirements to an employee will have to
    micromanage because the employee doesn’t clearly understand expectations.
  2. The
    manager should determine where micromanaging is needed, what particular project
    needs a close eye on it and when it is appropriate to micromanage. Will the
    manager focus on all of the projects or a specific few? Will the manager focus
    on all employees or certain ones, and just when should micromanaging be done?
  3. Understand
    the art of delegating at a steadily rate. Know when to back off on
    micromanaging top performers and those who show the ability to be productive
    without ongoing supervision. Start by delegating tasks that are less risky and
    require few to no decisions by the employee. Then gradually increase task and
    decision making as the employee improves and you feel he/she is more capable.
  4. With
    every new task or project, the manager should ask the employee for his/her


If you are the guilty micromanager
described in this paper then you need to take a critical look at yourself and
understand that you are keeping your employees from being creative and
innovative, which will reduce productivity and profits for the organization.

Good managers should focus
on the big and strategic picture, instead of the small details of the
operation. Good managers should empower, encourage, develop, and inspire their
employees and not become overbearing and controlling.


Lao Tzu quote retrieved August 25, 2011from

quote from Tuia, S. “Executive Coaching and the American President.”
Morgan Article Archive (2005).

Drucker, P.F. (1946) Concept
of the Corporation. New York:
John Day Company

Micromanaging: 5 signs
you’re doing it; 4 ways to stop. (April, 2011) Human Resource Specialist, vol 9,
issue 4, p. 6