A Cure for Micro-Management

Jul 07 2003 by Dan Bobinski Print This Article

The other day I was talking with a man named Tim (last name withheld) who is a middle manager in a large company. Tim was complaining how his supervisor makes Tim responsible for a whole lot of things, but is tying his hands in way that gives him very little authority to get those things done. In Tim’s words, it’s so bad it goes way beyond micro-management (so much so that we’re calling it sub-atomic management).

Over-controlling is usually done by managers who don’t quite know how to manage. The result is ineffective use of personnel and tremendously lower productivity and profits.

Micro and sub-atomic managers operate from a belief that the people under their charge are incapable of following through on the tasks assigned them. They spend time telling people exactly what to do and how to do it. They start making decisions about who-should-do-what three levels down on the organizational chart. They disregard people’s ability to solve problems on their own.

This is a morale-killer for seasoned employees.

Often times a manager does not even realize he or she is micro-managing. This problem is exasperated when no one dare confront the offending manager for fear of retribution, but the problem can be addressed if the offender learns of his or her transgressions.

One of our clients was a woman in her 50’s. The seventy-five people under her direction were complaining that the micro-managing was getting worse. When we brought it to her attention we discovered she did not even know the definition of micro-management. Once she learned that her behavior was classified as micro-management, she shifted pretty quickly. Lo and behold, now everyone is much happier and production is back up.

Micro-management happens everywhere. Jean Rollins (not her real name) is a conscientious mid-level manager who is always willing to go over and above. She says, “I’m trained and guided by regulations. I know what I need to do to get my job done well. I do my job and then some.” But from time to time, Jean has experienced micro-management at the government agency where she has worked for fifteen years. “Sometimes it’s worse than others,” she says, “depending on who is running the agency at the time.”

When micro-management gets bad, Jean gets frustrated. “We get so bogged down by the focus on minutia that we can’t do the things that we’re supposed to. Micro-managers get focused on their own little agendas and have us chasing things down to make them look good. They don’t allow us to keep the priorities we need to accomplish our mission—and then they have the nerve to complain about our lack of time management!”

Part of the problem with many micro-managers is not understanding what goes on around them. “They don’t know the day-to-day details of my job,” Jean says. “They’ve never done it, and they won’t listen to me when I try to tell them.”

At the other end of the spectrum are micro-managers that know all too well the jobs of people in their organization. Charlie Yuan works in a factory outside Chicago as a lead in his department. But his department head, George, worked in Charlie’s job for six years before getting promoted, and George doesn’t hesitate for a minute to tell Charlie exactly how things need to be done. Never mind the fact that Charlie’s been there for almost two years and operations have changed in the past six months.

If you’re a boss, set goals. Get feedback from your direct-reports on what is needed to meet those goals, and then let them move ahead with their assignments. You’ll want to check status from time to time, continuing to ask where help might be needed, and then supply that help.

If people under your charge need training, provide training. It requires time and resources in the short term, but it creates knowledgeable employees, equipped to make decisions.

Believe that the people in your charge can do the job and make decisions if they have the right tools and enough information. Involve them in the goal-setting process by getting their input on potential obstacles and possible solutions.

Then delegate for results – not methods.

Let your people do their jobs. That’s what they’re paid to do.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Daniel Bobinski teaches teams and individuals how to use emotional intelligence and how to create high impact training. He’s also a best-selling author, a popular speaker, and he loves helping teams and individuals achieve workplace excellence

Older Comments

I can't tell you how relieved I was to hear that more people have the same kind of situation that I do at work. I am 52 years old, and 6 months from retirement. I hired into an angency almost 2 years ago to 'manage people'. Your article on 'micro-management' descibes my General Manager to the letter. Although I did not know this type of agency, I questioned the Human Resource Manager when they called me back for a second interview, that 'why are you folks considering me for this position'? I know nothing of your business!! She explained that they wanted someone outside to manage their organized labor people and a person who had an extended back round in this area of managing people.

Now, my GM is baggering me because I can't function in the agency at their level of expertise. He expects me to be able to make things happen but at the same time dictates to me who, what, where, when & how. I am frustrated to the point of quitting even though I have only 6 months before retirement. I don't sleep, I have pain in my left shoulder from tension and stress, I been more ill in the last 18 months than I've been in the last 25 years. People around me are trying to help me along to try to get through the next 6 months, but, optimistically, I do not believe I can get through the next 6 days. I'm going from day to day.

The Board of Trustee's thinks that this man walks on water and is perfect in every way. They couldn't be more wrong, but no one will listen to me at the upper levels of management because their all afraid of losing their jobs also.

I feel very frustrated, I really can't put into words really how this feels. I thought I was a seasoned professional, but when it comes to dealing with this management style, life sucks.



I have worked in the convenience store industry every since I was 16 and I am now 43 years old I`have been a convenience Store Manager for 20 years I started managing when I was 23 and the company I worked for is the worse I have seen in my management years for Micro Managing thier convenient store Managers and the associates at store level, I have moved on with another convenient store company after I was asked on`several occasions to take a promotion as supervisor but I actually liked working with my team members (cashiers) and as a Supervisor too much pressure was put on store managers to break down our associate cashiers. I felt I was always that middle man taking the fall because I knew what my associates (cashiers)did for the company, We had a very successful store out of many in our company and its because I took pride in my associates at store level,I always cared about thier feelings and I noticed The higher up the level in management, the less feelings for the associates in our store and I would never be successful at that level. I honestly believe that a convenient stores success is based on how the associates at store level are treated, If you treat them with RESPECT you will always get more out of them more productivity and profits, and when they have a Store Manager treating them with respect but at that sametime these associates see how thier Store Manager is being treated from upper management, The whole team gets a 'I could care less' to do well..attitude, I feel if the upper management wants to look good and have a successful district, They need to stop micro managing Unless of course a store that is not successful needs it, But then again.. Wouldnt it be easier and less stressful on the district manager to replace a store manager that must be micro managed then to keep micro managing the whole district? Just a word of advise from a veteran Convenient store Manager, You must stop micro managing your good Store Managers before they resign and find a company who treats them with more honesty, respect, and most of all TRUST,

Productive Manager

How do I, as a coordinator convey upper management that micro management does not work. The attitudes and work ethic are very low. It already has been mention to upper management that micro management not productive. He was called on the carpet for voicing his opinion. Ihave been with the utility company for 25 years.

Chet Barkell

My boss mico manages to the point where she wants manage me overseeing how the catering company sets up sandwiches and cookies for a luncheon. It is out of control! I hinted around that it is out of control, but because I am new I am not confident in coming out and confronting her.

Jane Dont

I just left a micro manager who knew all the right words to praise the work and, at the same time, watched to see what we were doing on the computer, read e-mails and called the worker on every shift every day. Once he even turned up at 2 am to check up on things. He took our ideas as his own and he kept us out of the loop in our own work when he interjected himself in it. He answered our calls from his office before we could and did not pass on the information. He would take away tasks that belonged to employees and forget he had done so, demanding information which the employees could not know. When I left he visited the site I was working on to tell me any e-mails I sent to my replacement (with information that might help his work product) would now come to him alone. Asked why, he said 'because I am the manager'. When I declined to work casual there, he started a rapid fire set of questions which felt very intimidating. So despite any platiudes, his approach felt demeaning, mistrustful and intimidating.

M P Gordon Canada

I work in Administration for a Federal Commission. Some of my duties are to provide wireless devices and accessories to the employees. These requests are always pre-approved by their respective Managers. However, before the purchasing group can proceed with a purchase, they require the written approval of my Director. I sometime have to send my email a second and third time to get the approval to purchase. If the request is based on a 'lost' item, my Director starts to question me about the employee who lost or damaged the item. I was once told to call a former employee at home to find out why the AC charger for his Blackberry was not returned when he left three weeks earlier. I made it clear to my Director that I was working for the Administration Section and not the Security Section. I replied that I could not call an employee at home to ask for such a petty item. My Director told me it was the only way to keep our inventory up to date. I used to do the same work for another government department before coming here and deliveries were in the next day. Now it takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to order because my Director won't let me buy these items immediately, which by the way are not coming from her budget.

Raymond Ottawa, Canada

I am president of a small software company. I really need some help dealing with valued employees who expect to be micro-managed. It seems as though a job description that indicates the person is responsible to manage, coordinate, and facilitate a function, process, or a project, is not enough for them. They need so much detail on how to do their job, it is really frustrating. Can anyone direct me to some material that I can use to help such an employee to see how unproductive they are?

Richard Rands

My micro-Manager has been on vacation the past two weeks. Today while I was sitting in the common area she called me in her office and told me that if I have nothing to do then I need to be working with the clients. See, I am a Unit Supervisor along with one other supervisor, we are not technically management. Yet, over the past 2 weeks we have had to do our Managers job as well as ours, and we got it all done and then some with no real direction. When our manager got back today we got no Thank You or anything to do with all the work we had been able to accomplish with her not being here. So, it seems to me that all she ever does is look for faults in our work unless it is exactly how she would have done it. How do I let her know that she is demeaning in how she 'Manages' us?

Joe Greeley, CO

When an organization practices some form of micro-management, or becomes primarily process oriented versus results oriented, there results an increase in unnecessary costs, a loss of productivity due to de-motivation and a stifling of initiatives. Thence the entire organization suffers. Empowerment with accuntability is the answer to forge ahead in these perilous times.

Giles R. Fournier Nova Scotia - Canada

I have worked for a micromanager for the past 6 years although i did originally think that he was a bully. I have had meetings with the CEO to get him to realise that the constant nick picking and fault finding is making me ill. Like Paul my health has deteriorated over the past couple of years and the company are aware of this due to my poor attendance. The micromanager takes copies off any mistake i make and keeps it until my next MBO where he brings them all up so that when bonus time i'm told that due to my bad performance over the past year i will not be getting one! but i bet the M-M does. Management are reluctant to take any notice of me when i tell them what he is doing to my health and self esteem. What can i do, nothing i have worked for the company for 13 years and there is not an opening anywhere else and if there was my records of making mistakes would not be good reading. I am loosing control, i am like a babling wreck when i try to speak to management about the problem. Why should i have to look for another job, I'm 53 and bringing up my daughter on my own. Can someone please help me stop this micromanager from ruining my life and health!


P Gray United Kingdom

It's so awful to hear all your difficulties, and I do sympathise with everyone in this position. In my own situation as an administrator in a residential care home i can't win and have no hope of fair treatment because my managers are father and son who can't even get on with each other. i go to work every morning feeling sick with dread at what the day holds in store. I leave at the end of the day (not promptly because they always find something else that needs to be done even though I have clocked in early, had minimal lunch break and expected to wash up their lunch plates). They scream at each other at the drop of a hat, they scream at the other manager who is the head boss's wife, junior boss's mother, for reasons such as she has brought the wrong flavour sandwiches in). Not a day goes by but they reduce staff to tears - staff who are paid £6 an hour for a very demanding job in care, It is hard to bear , I was a senior executive for many years until being made redundant 2 years ago because of then recession after a professional career of 30 years and found this job after 5 months of jobseeking and was pathetically grateful to get it as I thought my worth would be recognised - far from it, they have benefited from my skills and I am completely taken for granted. When the mood takes them I alternately praised or spoken to as a 5 year old . I wouldn't be surprised if they have bugged the office - they are terrified of staff actually talking to each other and at the slightest sign of people getting on with each other they take steps to keep them apart. I am in touch with a colleague who left recently, she is completely traumatised after 5 years working there and feels as though she has been released from prison. I I am so happy for her as she has a lot to offer to the healthcare profession. When I first worked there they told me I should establish a good working relationship with her, then when I did they were hiding around corners eavesdropping on our conversations - which in work time were only about work. Outside work hours we spoke about how we really felt! I have welcomed this woman into my family and we have bonded like survivors of an awful ordeal. I keep applying for other jobs but for the time being am stuck with this. There's no way out as far as I can see........ :(


I work in a church and have 35 years of experience. We have a pastor who is a micro manager, there are cultural differences, he wants support but does not give us support. When a decision needs to be made, which only he can, it is difficult to catch up with him and when there is discussion, it is best to write things down because he contradicts himself. The entire staff knows this, we cannot say anything, parishioners are leaving, they cannot say anything and writing letters to the next level falls on deaf ears! It is sad.

Karen virginia