Managing Up: How to Succeed Under a Micromanager (and Change Their Ways)

Managing Up: How to Succeed Under a Micromanager (and Change Their Ways)

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Unfortunately, it’s all too common to have a micromanager as a boss at some point in your career. Ideally, a manager provides their staff with goals and objectives to achieve, but reasonable discretion about the process and steps taken to achieve them. But under a micromanager, you may not have much – or any – discretion. They may drop by your desk ostensibly to briefly touch base on assignments in progress and request that you change such minutiae as how and where you digitally file, or when you perform tasks.

Micromanagers may also change projects significantly, so that you are always chasing a moving goal post. They may review your reports and give such extensive feedback that you need to rewrite from the ground up, with new objectives and data, for example.

Most people become frustrated with micromanagement. But it’s not enough to just tear your hair: successful employees find a winning strategy for every type of manager. Here are tips on how to succeed under a micromanager and stay sane – plus some advice on how to gently change their tendencies.

Manage Up to Succeed Under a Micromanager

1. Clarify the business goal.

One of the most difficult aspects of dealing with micromanagers is that they tend to change goals in the middle of a project (sometimes on multiple occasions). You are researching how to make your company’s brand more appealing to Generation Z, for instance – and suddenly, your manager seems to be changing that goal to researching how to make it appeal to health-conscious consumers.

This could be inadvertent. Managers are busy, and this kind of situation could arise from slippage in their own focus. Gen Z is often health-conscious, so they are focusing on a subcategory of the goal rather than the overall goal. But be wary of a micromanager’s focus that actually changes the end result too much to fulfill the original business goal.

Clarifying the goals in the first place allows you to keep focus. Not only that, but it allows you to gently re-orient your manager if needed. You don’t want to end up taking the blame if your manager’s micro focus leads you both astray.

2. Understand the cause of the micromanagement.

Managers are people with many demands on them. Don’t assume that managers are micromanaging simply because they’re control freaks. Some micromanagement may stem from changes your manager really does have to respond to – and their chosen method of response is more involvement in your work.

MicromanagerThey may be receiving conflicting feedback from their managers. The C-suite may change its mind about priorities. The business environment may change in such a way that your team’s projects really do change focus.

The more you understand the reason for the micromanagement, the more understanding you can be. The more understanding you are, the less frustrated you’ll be.

3. Set up the expectations for success – and exceed them.

All managers have expectations for success in a position and a project, even if they seldom fully articulate them. One of your goals should be to elicit what those expectations for success are.

One method is to literally ask your manager what success in your job looks like. You might assume, for example, that your success is breaking down data on the Gen Z consumer. But your manager’s image of success might be fostering excellent cross-department relations more than crunching data.

Once you find out what success in your position looks like, develop a strategy for exceeding expectations.

How To Change A Micromanager’s Tendencies

1. Build trust with your manager.

Folks who work for micromanagers need to understand that, at bottom, micromanaging is an issue of trust. Your manager is afraid that your work won’t be done right, so is interfering to make it right.

It’s easy to become defensive in that scenario. No one wants to feel that their manager thinks their work, their performance, or their processes fall short of the mark.

But instead of focusing on your feelings, strategize methods of building trust. Is your manager afraid your reports won’t be ready for their 8:00 a.m. meetings with the C-suite – or isn’t in the format the C-suite prefers? Get those reports ready ahead of time, in the format C-suiters have responded well to in the past.

If your manager breathes a sign of relief, you’re well on your way to gaining their trust – and easing up on their micromanagement, because they can trust you to do it right.

2. Understand their weaknesses.

While some micromanagement may reflect conflicting or changing goals that managers are being buffeted with themselves, other micromanaging tendencies stem from, let’s face it, weaknesses. Your job is to understand their weakness and manage it tactfully and professionally.

Your boss may be new to managing or inexperienced in the industry, for example. Increasingly, they may be in a different location from their staff. They may be somewhat disorganized, indecisive, or prone to procrastinate.

Recognize the weakness. If you can assist (with tactful information for a new boss, for example, or superb organization for a disorganized one), do so. But read the situation with the complexity it deserves, too. Some disorganized people do not want someone stepping in and taking over. Again, model what success looks like to your manager, not necessarily what it looks like to you.

Working for a micromanager can be tough. If life deals you one, focus on strategies for success and on building trust and understanding their weaknesses to change them if possible.

For more insights on successfully managing up, schedule a mentorship session today.


Rita Williams
About the Author
Rita Williams

Rita Williams is a freelance writer on a wide range of topics, including careers, human resources trends and personal finance. She works with both job-seekers and companies to educate and inform them about best practices – and shows humor and understanding while doing it.

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