I’ve worked with a number of micromanagers over the years, and they can be incredibly frustrating to work for. Here are some of the worst micromanagement examples:
- Monitoring employee progress each step of the way
- Not communicating the big picture, ensuring employees can’t do too much on their own
- Not only setting the end goal but the exact path for getting to the goal
- Focusing on a never-ending need for perfection, rather than completion
- Constantly criticizing how everyone works
- The boss believing that no one else can do their job as good as they can
- Not getting input from the team
If you’re a boss are you constantly frustrated with what you see as sub-par work from your employees?
Maybe you feel like “they just can’t do anything right” or that the business would fail without your constant intervention?
If you answered yes to any of those questions and micromanagement examples then, in my best Jeff Foxworthy voice, “you just might be a micromanager”!
But if you’re an employee of a micromanager, you’re also most likely equally frustrated.
After all, micromanagers are often stretched so thin trying to wear all the hats that their patience is stretched thin. They are easily stressed and employees often walk on eggshells around them.
The good news if you are a micromanager, or if you work for one, there are steps you can take to make your work environment less hostile, more productive, and ultimately better for everyone.
In this post, we’ll explore exactly what a micromanager is & how to identify one, specifically the micromanagement examples that can help you move forward.
I read that in the voice of Bill Lumbergh. pic.twitter.com/1Q9bGSjTtl
— Henry (@c_h_i_s_o) December 24, 2017
What is a micromanager?
A micromanager is someone who insists that employees run all or most of their work by them for inspection. They closely monitor everyone’s work, often insisting on tweaking or redoing the work to meet their own high expectations.
Ultimately, employees aren’t trusted or empowered to go above and beyond since they know it would likely be met with criticism anyway.
Thus, as you’ll see in the micromanagement examples here, employees who work under a micromanager tend to eventually just do the bare minimum.
If an employee isn’t doing the job you wanted them to do, it really falls to these 3 things that YOU, as the boss, did wrong:
- You didn’t hire the right person
- They were not adequately trained
- You didn’t make the expectations clear
If all 3 of those things fall into place, micromanagement becomes unnecessary.
As Lee Iacocca once famously said when he was chairman of the Chrysler Corporation: “I have found that truth is the best thing I can use. Fully open, tell people what you are trying to do and what you are willing to give up to do it. I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way.”
What are the characteristics of a micromanager?
Some of the characteristics of a micromanager are:
- Being never quite satisfied with results
- Feeling frustrated because you would have done the task differently
- Focusing on perfection to the detriment of completion and productivity
- You laser in on the details and take great pride and /or pain in making corrections
- Constantly wanting to know where all your team members are and what they’re working on
- You ask for frequent updates on where things stand
- Wanting to be cc’d on emails
But there’s a difference between an involved, hard-working boss and a micromanager.
There are few things I enjoy less in a boss than being a micromanager. Either trust me to do the job you hired me to do or fire me and do my job your damn self. pic.twitter.com/GNMvSHMMac
— Alex Brown 🎃👻💀 (@QueenOfRats) June 23, 2020
How to tell if you’re a micromanager or just hands-on
In my previous career as a GM for Whole Foods Market, I prided myself on never asking a team member to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself.
Thus there were times I drove a forklift in the rain to help out my shipping & receiving person. Or I bagged groceries when it was busy, or stocked shelves if we were short-handed.
I was involved; people knew they could count on me. But I wasn’t doing those things so I could constantly monitor, correct, and criticize their behavior.
No, I did those things so, as a GM, I could:
- Have a clear understanding of how my store was operating
- Know who the rock stars were on my team
- To build rapport with my team
So figure out what your motivation is. Are you constantly watching, judging, and correcting behavior/work? Or are you simply wanting to get to know everyone and letting them know they can count on you?
— Jessica Tai (@j__tai) March 16, 2020
How not to be a micromanager
To not be a micromanager, learn to let go. Accept that others will do things differently than you. Get the team’s input, and even if you set the end goal and time frame, let each person determine how they reach it. Understand that morale, and reducing turnover will be more beneficial than perfection.
To change any behavior we have to get a clear understanding of why we’re behaving that way.
Just like the alcoholic who doesn’t come to terms with why he started drinking to excess, if we don’t figure out why we’re behaving this way, it will be very hard to stop.
To me, most of these micromanagement examples are rooted in fear and insecurity.
The micromanager has a deep-seated fear of something; maybe not even related to the business. They feel out of control in some aspect of their lives and trying to micromanage the business is one way of taking control back.
In reality, we don’t have control over anything other than our own actions and re-actions.
Once we come to terms with that and realize that most of life is completely outside of our control, then we can truly start to lose our fear and insecurity.
If you struggle with trying to overcome a Fear of Failure, I highly recommend you take a moment and review some of my simple steps that can help overcome that.
What does micromanagement cost the organization?
Overall, micromanagement reduces a company’s productivity & profits while significantly increasing the costs of hiring & training. 50% of employees leave jobs due to being micromanaged. But for the remaining employees, morale and productivity all suffer too.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, 50% of employees left a job “to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.”
Gallup CEO Jim Clifton goes on to say “The single biggest decision you make in your job–bigger than all the rest–is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits–nothing.”
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the average cost-per-hire is $4,129, while the average time it takes to fill a given position is 42 days.
Thus you can see that having micromanagers in your organization can cause a lot of great employees to leave and cost your company a lot of money in hiring and training.
The scourge of the hands-off micromanager
It must be my karma but many times over the years I have found myself working for what I call a hands-off micromanager.
My Dad was probably the chief among those.
My Dad sadly passed away in 2014 and I will treasure the years we spent working together. But I treasure it because of how they drew us together and not his managerial style.
A hands-off micromanager is one who wants to control everything but not actually do a lot in the business.
They fire off orders from a desk or insist that everything come before them for review, but they aren’t actually working in the business physically as much as the rest of the team.
In my Dad’s case, he loved telling everyone what to do. He’d point and bark orders. He would go to trade shows and pick out merchandise. Or on other occasions, he would see a customer waiting to be checked out and actually go and find someone to do it rather than do it himself.
Often he’d even frantically tell them a customer was waiting. Ironically, the customer would have been checked out sooner if he’d just done it.
To be fair we worked together later in his life (2006-2009) so perhaps he wasn’t this way in his younger years, but I suspect he was.
In many ways the hands-off micromanager is one of the worst micromanagement examples because of the resentment it can build.
At least with a hands-on micromanager, they are physically in touch with the business and the employees know the boss is willing to work hard.
The hands-off micromanager not only can drive morale down but often the employees don’t respect them as much since they aren’t willing to get their hands dirty.
I detail the earlier years of my relationship with my Dad in one of my most popular posts called Growing Up With a Gay Father.
Is micromanaging a form of bullying?
Micromanaging is not the same as bullying unless it turns verbally or physically abusive. An overbearing supervisor who remains demanding and overbearing, yet professional, is not being a bully.
Personally, I think the term bullying gets thrown around too much these days.
And like the boy who cried wolf, if we cry bullying too often we’ll eventually become so desensitized to it we won’t respond to truly genuine instances of it.
So before we get into the micromanagement examples and how they relate to bullying, let’s first define bullying.
In Googling it, I see the definition listed as to “use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.”
So a boss certainly has superior influence over their employees, but is constant supervision intimidating?
I suppose it could be, but at the end of the day, bullying is intentionally picking on someone. The bully either has the intent to either make the other person feel bad about themselves or to do something they don’t want to do.
Thus I think in many cases, micromanaging, however frustrating and annoying or dis-empowering, is not the same thing as bullying.
Are there are plenty of bosses out there who take their micromanaging to excessive levels that do cross over into bullying? No doubt.
But abusive behavior is not necessarily the same thing as micromanaging.
Are you a #leader, or a #micromanager?
Great leaders bring out the best in people.
Choose to #empower your #team today 👊#leadership #empowerment #inspiration #leadersinaction pic.twitter.com/MoPA274cYj
— Steve Gutzler (@SteveGutzler) October 16, 2020
Worst Micromanagement Examples:
1. THE NEVER-ENDING HUNT FOR PERFECTION
There’s a saying I love that goes “done is better than perfect”.
For the micromanager, they don’t accept less than perfection on even the most mundane tasks. So often, in their never-ending quest for perfection, they delay taking action on tasks or projects which back up the workflow, take their toll on morale, and cost the company money.
2. THE BACK-HANDED APOLOGY
No list of micromanagement examples would be complete without discussing ownership and apologizing.
A typical micromanager won’t do either of these well. When they do apologize they’re much more likely to try and justify it, make excuses or shift the blame. The telltale sign of this is adding a “but” at the end of it. “I’m sorry xxxx happened, but . . . .”
Anytime we add a “but” to the end of an apology it shows we’re not truly taking ownership and it negates any possible benefit from offering an apology.
3. RETALIATION FOR CRITICAL FEEDBACK
Almost all companies ask for employee feedback. Many owners and managers ask for feedback too.
But the micromanager, ultimately driven by insecurity, really doesn’t truly want honest feedback. Let’s be honest; most of us don’t really like hearing a list of things we need to improve upon no matter how well it gets delivered.
But for the micromanager, it’s not uncommon for there to be some kind of retaliation for receiving critical feedback.
Sure they may tell themselves it’s unrelated or try and justify it. But ultimately it’s in retaliation for being criticized and it’s a way of deflecting the attention off of themselves. It’s also a means of regaining control over you.
4. A ROTATING DOOR OF EMPLOYEES
Another of the micromanagement examples is when you see high turnover.
They say employees don’t voluntarily quit a job, they quit their manager. It’s true. Most employees who quit voluntarily leave because of poor leadership on the part of their immediate supervisor.
A micromanager typically will send employees fleeing in droves unless the job and salary options elsewhere are slim to none.
5. THE MICROMANAGER BURNS OUT
One of the biggest problems with being a micromanager is burning out from the huge workload.
After all, if you’re trying to monitor, supervisor, and correct EVERYTHING happening in your company or department. That’s a virtually impossible task. That’s not sustainable and eventually, you’ll get frazzled and become less effective.
6. A LACK OF INPUT OR NEW IDEAS FROM STAFF
Micromanagement examples also have to include the inevitable drop in employee input.
Ironically this happens both because the employees know their ideas will get shot down, but in many cases, the micromanager also isn’t seeking their input and suggestions.
Thus over time, employees learn to keep their heads down. They toil quietly grinding out just enough work to not get fired or reprimanded. Rarely are they inspired or motivated to go above and beyond.
7. TEMPER TANTRUMS AND LACK OF PATEIENCE
The micromanager is easy to spot.
They will be the ones often seeming stressed out and impatient. They may blow up or lose their cool when things don’t go exactly as they planned. But even the ones who are more mild-mannered will still show signs of frustration and irritation.
8. LOW MORALE AMONG STAFF
It goes without saying in these micromanagement examples that the employees of a micromanager hate their job. Or at least they don’t love it as much as they could/should.
They might stay for the pay or benefits, but trust me; they’re Googling the job sites in the evening desperately hoping something comes their way.
You see most employees want to do a great job. They want to feel like their opinion and work is valued. Even if the micromanager thinks they are valuable their actions tell the employee otherwise. It becomes a disheartening and depressing work environment.
Thus you either have high turnover as I mentioned above, or it leads to poor morale.
9. LACK OF DELEGATING
I mentioned burnout above with the micromanager.
One of the key reasons for that is this false belief that they can do everything better than anyone else. And to be fair maybe that’s actually true to a degree.
But if you don’t hire right and train right, make your expectations clear, and give your employees the opportunity to try new things how will they ever get better?
You see most of us learn by making mistakes.
We analyze the mistake and we learn from it. Then the next time we do it, it’s a little better than the last. The leader gives feedback but also allows the employee the opportunity to learn from the mistake rather than simply taking that task away or micromanaging it.
10. THE TEAM AVOIDS THE MANAGER
In any work environment, there’s often that leader that everyone avoids.
I think of Bill Lumbergh in the movie Office Space who I’m pictured above. He’s the boss everyone loves to hate. And the main character Peter goes to great lengths to avoid any one-on-one interactions with him.
If you’re the boss and your employees don’t make eye contact, turn the corner when they see you coming or suddenly bury their head in their work, that’s a clear sign.
That sign is telling you that something about how you’re leading the team is scary, unpleasant or intimidating.
11. DICTATING THE PATH TO THE GOAL
It’s also true that there’s more than 1 right way to do most things.
And while the micromanager’s way might be what they like the best or are most familiar with, that doesn’t mean it’s truly better than other ways of doing things.
So if you’re the leader, make the expectations clear. Assign a time frame or deadline for the task. Then get out of the way and allow the employee the freedom and creativity to find the path to the end result that works best for them.
The success of your business is dependent on finding a way to move beyond being a micromanager and being the leader your employees look up to, value, and trust.
Do these micromanagement examples sound familiar?
In this post, we looked at some of the ways managers work, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Specifically, we looked at some of the worst micromanagement examples to clearly define exactly what a micromanager is.
More importantly, if you are one or work for one, we talked about some crucial steps you can take to improve your work situation.
Are you a micromanager or work for one?
Feel free to comment here or email me with any questions!
Photo credits (that aren’t mine or which require attribution):
Darth Grader – by JD Hancock – is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Going Out of Business Store Signs– by Mike Mozart – is licensed under CC BY 2.0