How to manage your micromanager boss

There are few things more frustrating than being in a job that you love but having someone micromanage your every move.

Sometimes, micromanagers are a product of their personality or their experiences with previous managers. It can also be a lack of confidence in themselves or their reports, or direct orders from higher up. Their inability to let their employees direct themselves can also be a lack of prior management experience—they just don’t know how to lead a team.

How to manage a micromanager

Quite often, an employee who recognizes the issues of a micromanager can manage their own boss into a better employee-manager relationship if they are willing to put in the time and effort to manage them toward better behavior.

If that’s you, here are five ways to deal with your micromanaging boss:

  1. Don’t take it personally. Their micromanagement is not about you or the quality of your work (though, to be fair, it may be, but save that thought). Oftentimes, micromanaging bosses are new to their role as a leader and have not yet discovered how to deliver on the more transcendent value of leading a team. Instead, their view of success is to continue doing what they’ve done to get noticed before, and often, that means getting their hands dirty—even if it’s in your stuff. They may not have confidence in you yet, and it’s up to you (unfortunately) to make sure they learn that they can.
  2. Make it your intention to make them successful. If this is an idea that you can’t possibly stomach, then it’s probably time to move along to another job. But if you really like what you do, then the faster you become an ally to your boss—and the faster they believe it to be true—the more they will trust you and give you more latitude. Making them successful means aligning your priorities to be theirs, even if you don’t agree with them or have other preferences. It also means looking for ways to help them out and even anticipating what they may need before they ask for it. That’s ninja-level stuff that will surprise them and let them know you’re on their side.
  3. Negotiate for the “how.” Good leaders articulate the “what” (what needs to get done) and leave the “how” to their delegates. You may need to subtly train your leader in this area. Start by asking two questions when given an assignment: “What does a successful outcome look like?” followed with, “Is there a specific way you want me to tackle it?” That second question (and follow-ups like “What involvement do you want to have during this process?”) focuses on the “how.” If they have no preference, then you’ve established that you have freedom on how to proceed (a point you might be able to use later if/when they inappropriately insert themselves into the task). If they tell how they want you to do it in a way that seems ineffective, then follow-up with, “Are you open to other ways of approaching it?” Few leaders want to present themselves as not open to new ideas. Of course, this is best to do when they already know you’re on their side and not carrying your own agenda (see point 2).
  4. Give affirmations. As employees, we expect to be rewarded for our work. But everyone likes rewards and the best way to reinforce new behavior is through the rewards of praise. So, go ahead: offer it up to your boss. Let them know how much you appreciate them letting you run with the ball on that last assignment or whatever behavior you can or want to reinforce in them. Remember, with micromanagers, it can always get worse, so celebrate the small degrees of freedom you are offered. You may even find that they start to grow as a manager!
  5. Confront them about their leadership (or lack thereof). If none of that helps, and your situation is seemingly hopeless, then before you leave your job altogether, have an honest conversation with them about their leadership style—and your followership style. When you do, avoid blaming language that provokes defensiveness. Instead, use the following formula: When (whatever specific thing happened), I felt (how you felt—yes, use an emotion word here, it will provoke more empathy). It would help me if (what behavior you’d like to see). Here are a couple of examples:
    • When I discovered that you entirely rewrote that report, I felt like my contributions weren’t valued. It would help me if you would involve me in the changes you think need to be made so that I have a better idea of what you are expecting.
    • When I got the email questioning my $14 charge on my last travel expense report, I felt like my personal sacrifices to get to the airport at 6 am for a cheaper flight were not appreciated. It would help me if I either had more latitude for miscellaneous expenses or the ability to adjust when I fly.

Of course, there’s no guarantee they will be receptive to your suggestion. But, at least, you’ll know you’ve done what you can to improve the situation.

Ultimately, you get to decide how much training you want to put in to manage your micromanager—and some micromanagers won’t respond to anything you try to do. You’ll have to decide if it is worth the effort, and know when to walk away if you don’t start seeing the changes you want.

But before you jump ship entirely, it’s worth trying one or more of the strategies above to help you stay in a job that you love, even if your boss loves your job a bit too much, too. Maybe you can turn the tables and even find a way to keep them busy enough in their own job to stay away from yours. 🙂

Comment below: what’s one successful strategy you’ve found in managing a micromanager?

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