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Today I want to discuss the pitfalls of the dreaded management style generally known as micromanagement. Although leaders do not want to be seen as residing in this category, the truth is that many leaders and managers do operate in this style. Micromanagement is very common, especially in a changing marketplace, due to the pressure for organizations to achieve successful outcomes, gain market share, compete, and gain future sustainability.
So what is meant by micromanagement? This management style is characterized by extremely close observation and/or control of the work of subordinates. Micromanagement definitions often have key words in their description such as “excessive control” and “extreme attention on small details.”

Why Leaders Micromanage

Why do leaders micromanage? One reason for this centers around the personality of the leader or manager. Micromanagers are usually detail-oriented with a strong drive for outcomes and success, and do not easily trust others to fulfill their expectations. They can easily become dissatisfied with the performance of their employees, their level of competency, and/or commitment to their role in the organization. Micromanagers often feel strong internal pressure to not fail and believe to get things right they must do the task themselves or get others to do it their way.

According to a Harvard Business Review article titled Why People Micromanage, managers that rise through an organization can feel disconnected and feel they have lost touch with the work being done.  Because they are uncomfortable in their new realm, managers can find themselves meddling in direct service areas that they once provided.  Now that they are fulfilling the role of a manager, and are required to work more strategically, they must begin to delegate operational functions that they once so adequately performed that led to their promotion into management. (See: Why People Micromanage)

How Do You Know You Are Micromanaging?

Leaders and managers do not always recognize that they are micromanaging their staff. Micromanagers tend to:

  1. Resist delegating work: Leaders fear that their subordinates will not succeed. They do not fully trust that others can accomplish their expected level of achievement.
  2. Immerse themselves in the work delegated to others: As a result of not fully trusting their employees, leaders and managers will personally scrutinize the work to assure it is being done according to their standards. Some micromanagement systems, such as multi-level reviews, are also created to safeguard poor results. This can result in multiple layers of micromanagement.
  3. Look at the detail instead of the big picture: Although leaders are responsible for charting a strategic direction, they can find themselves immersed in the details of how tactics are operationalized to meet strategy.
  4. Discourage others from making decisions: This discouragement is often seen when it comes to decisions regarding the final product or work of the subordinate. Some leaders and managers feel it is a quality-oriented necessity to have the final say before something is completed. Although this can assure best quality, it can often be disempowering to the subordinate.
  5. Get involved in the projects of subordinates without consulting them: Leaders forget that they must also abide by the rules of good communication, and without warning involve themselves in projects headed by and delegated to a subordinate.
  6. Regularly monitor what’s not important or urgent: Managers can find themselves over-demanding reports, updates, and progress on projects delegated to subordinates.
  7. Disregard the experience and knowledge of staff: Leaders and managers can “think-away” the fact that their employees have the ability to meet organizational quality standards. They have a difficult time believing that subordinates can succeed without management input.
  8. Have poor employee retention: Managers that micromanage cannot cultivate the loyalty and commitment of their staff, which in turn leads to expensive staff turnover.
  9. Have an unbalanced life: Micromanagers will often work 7 days a week and expect their employees to be available during non-work hours, on weekends, and at odd hours. Burnout of the manager and their staff is often the result.
  10. Has a team that is not engaged: Being a recipient of micromanagement, employees do not display the motivation and impetus to feel engaged. They recognize their contribution to the success of the organization has limited value. They do not feel trusted.

The Pitfalls of Micromanagement

  1. Loss of Trust: The main pitfall of being a micromanager is the loss of employee trust that results.  Micromanagement will most often lead to an erosion of trust, and when trust is reduced or worst yet, gone, a serious loss of productivity and high turnover occurs.
  2. Loss of control: When employee quality and productivity are motivated by the control of a micromanager, the end result is often a loss of management’s control. This is due to the employee’s loss of buy-in, creativity, and investment in success. These factors can lead to the employee finding ways to avoid important and relevant communication with managers to limit micromanagement. If the employees become adept at this, the manager ultimately will experience a loss of control.
  3. Dependent employees: Being micromanaged, staff will begin to depend on management rather than having the confidence to perform tasks on their own. Micromanagement can result in the team feeling like they cannot handle the tasks assigned without constant guidance. When employees are not dependent upon management, they will think on their own and utilize the skills, talents, and insights they were hired for. Employees need the freedom to think and act on their own with minimal guidance from managers.
  4. Burnout: Micromanagement is exhausting and highly time-consuming. Being engaged in the minutia of everyday activities can produce burnout. The energy burned while micromanaging can affect subordinates and inhibit a culture of performance. Spending valuable business time in unnecessary monitoring will eventually leave less time for clear strategic decision making and other higher level leadership responsibilities.
  5. Loss of Employees: Most competent staff dislike being micromanaged. When employees are micromanaged, they eventually tire of it and leave the organization.  Considering the reasons why managers micromanage, such as ego, insecurity, inexperience, and perfectionism, it’s just not worth the high turnover rate. Having to constantly train and re-train staff not only robs the organization of valuable resources, but it also destroys the reputation of the organization.
  6. Stops Constructive Feedback: Micromanaged employees will not step outside the dictates of their manager’s decisions, ideas, or requirements, nor go the extra mile to achieve success. A lack of autonomy will stifle creative ideas, and staff will not make suggestions that could lead to positive organizational change or increased success.
  7. Development of an Unwanted Culture: If management becomes comfortable micromanaging their employees, it is inevitable that a culture of control will be established. This culture of control will likely be known to all employees and they will find strategies to avoid or cope with this type of management system. Ultimately this culture leads to less productivity and success.

My Thoughts

Because micromanagement suggests to employees that a leader or manager does not trust their work, experience, or judgment, it is a major factor in triggering employee dissatisfaction.  When the employee is confident with their level of performance and are micromanaged, they label their manager as a “control freak.” When new employees enter the organization, this micromanagement culture is quickly passed on by seasoned employees as information for the new person.

Severe forms of micromanagement can stimulate fear and behavioral/mental health issues with subordinates. Anger, depression, lack of self-worth, and hopelessness can arise. Severe micromanagement can provoke anti-social behavior, can lead to a toxic work environment, and in extreme cases, result in violence.

I believe it is important for leaders to conduct a self-analysis to see if they are engaged in micromanaging. For those leaders and managers that want employee feedback regarding their feelings of being micromanaged, discussion should be initiated with their employees during direct supervision time or questions crafted regarding micromanagement for staff satisfaction surveys. Once self-analysis and feedback are analyzed, discussions should be forthcoming to explore how to improve the culture of the organization by limiting or eliminating the micromanaged structure to assure a more trusting and engaged work environment.

I would be interested in your thoughts regarding micromanaging and how your organization works to avoid this type of management style.

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