Help! My Boss Is Micro-Managing Me!

Last Updated Nov 2, 2009 9:29 AM EST

Dear Ron,
My boss second-guesses everything I do to the point that it seriously interferes with my ability to get anything done. I feel like she may still be attached to the duties she had when she was in my position (she was recently promoted), thus keeping me from fully taking on the role I was hired to fill. Any advice on how to handle this?
Even in cases where your boss didn't hold your job previously, micro-managing is a very common problem, particularly when bosses are feeling anxious and pressured for results, as so many are nowadays. And unfortunately, as you point out, it actually ends up de-motivating their employees because it takes away people's sense of being valued contributors.

It's worth thinking about a little about why your boss seems to have this need so you can figure out how best to respond. Is it because your boss is not a seasoned enough manager to effectively delegate tasks? Does she simply need to have an inordinate amount of control over everything in her life? And does she over-manage everyone, or just you, signaling you may need to work on giving her more confidence in your ability to get things done?

In most of these cases, I'd recommend discussing with your boss exactly what she expects from you, and then coming up with a very detailed plan for precisely how you plan to meet those expectations. You want to try to anticipate all the areas that your boss tends to get concerned about and incorporate these into your plan. The hope is that presenting her with this will mitigate her need to micro-manage you by convincing her that you've got a comprehensive grasp of what needs to be done. And you subsequently want to make sure you're giving regular progress reports to your boss to reassure her that everything is being done according to plan.

If your boss continues to micro-manage you, it may make sense to have a more direct conversation with her. You might say something like, "I feel like I make strong contributions here and want to continue doing so, but when you micro-manage me, I find it difficult to give my best." It may be that your boss is not aware of her instinctive need to micro-manage, and so you need to communicate that you feel you could do better work if you're trusted to carry out the tasks at hand. And then together you can try to identify what actions and behaviors would be necessary on your part to assure her that you are going to get things done to her satisfaction.

I once had a client-a rising manager at a manufacturing firm-whose boss was very insecure and a terrible micro-manager. My client first tried to pre-empt his micro-managing by keeping his boss constantly in the loop, but to no avail. So my client eventually spoke to his boss about his micro-managing, and explained that it was hampering his ability to do good work. Afterwards, the fact that my client had gotten it out in the open enabled him to call his boss's attention to his behavior in a lighter way, saying things like "There you go again." While his boss's behavior didn't change dramatically, he did become more self-aware and my client was at least able to get the micro-managing down to a tolerable level. The two worked together for another two years in a relatively effective fashion, and eventually, my client was able to work his way over to another boss.

That's an approach that you ought to try here as well.

Read More Power Plays From Ron Brown:
Help! I've Upset My Boss
My Main Supporter Has Left My Company
Help! I Need a Mentor
My Boss Doesn't Listen To Me
My Boss Is Trying to Steal My Ideas
Send Ron your career and job-related questions.
  • Ron Brown

    Ronald B. Brown is a leading expert in the fields of leadership development and organizational change. He is the founder and president of Banks Brown, a management consulting firm that specializes in providing leading-edge skills to optimize the performance of leaders and organizations. He has served as a consultant to Fortune 100 corporations such as the Procter & Gamble Company, Avon Products, Inc., McDonald's Corporation, General Electric Plastics, Kaiser Permanente, Shell Oil Company, Eastman Kodak Company, General Mills Inc., and Motorola, Inc. Brown holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.A. and B.S. from Michigan State University.

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