Illustration: Ashley Siebels
White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci just suffered a fate that all too many people working for a big personality have: his boss was constantly managing him. Some might even call it micromanaging. Scaramucci, as well, was micromanaging those around and under him: he came in to the job swearing that he would fire everyone. (That did not turn out well.)
Even if you’re not a White House staffer, you’ve experienced this. You’re leading a team on a long-term project and so far, you feel like you’ve gotten a pretty good handle on the material.
But you know who doesn’t seem to think so? Your manager, apparently.
Instead, he checks in with you about it multiple times per day and consistently starts doubting your vision, even though he was fine with it a week ago.
Supervisors who feel the need to micromanage can be difficult to work with, but there are steps you can take to make working with him or her a little easier. There are strategic ways to approach a boss who feels the need to be involved in every part of your work.
First, think about your own performance
A PayScale article features information on thinking about what you’re doing first. Maybe you are signalling that you can’t handle the job, or your results are lacking.
“Start from within: Before trying to gauge why your manager is acting the way he is, take a step back and assess if there’s been a change in your performance and conduct. Have you been delivering, meeting expectations from your role? If you are not doing what you are expected to do, then you are the problem. So, start with yourself. Focus on your job and you may soon notice that there is no rigorous scrutiny any more,” it says.
Don’t try to stop them
Directing a micromanager to stop doing the things that drive you crazy is not effective. At all. That’s because it doesn’t address the underlying problems, which are about anxiety, results and performance. Don’t go in there to your boss talking about how they’re micromanaging you. Instead, address the source of their anxieties and come up with ideas for better results.
This excellent Harvard Business Review column has good advice on how to talk to your boss about micromanaging without getting caught up in the details and losing your case.
Practice what to say
A Forbes article features eight questions to ask your micromanaging supervisor when you’re given a new project— here are two of them.
The first is, “‘Is there anything you’d like me to know about how this will get used?’ (This reassures the boss that you understand the bigger picture of how the assignment fits into the overall strategy),” the article says.
The fifth one is, “‘Are there other precedents/models/prototypes for this you’d like me to build on?’ (Sometimes the boss has done a project like this before, and if you build on, or at least reference their prior work, their anxiety will decrease immediately),” it says.
Show them you care
A Harvard Business Review article features advice on how to “increase trust” with micromanagers from Jean-François Manzoni, a professor of management at INSEAD and co-author of The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome: How Good Managers Cause Great People to Fail and Jenny Chatman, a professor of management at Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.
“According to Chatman, micromanagement is usually ‘based on a general view that the world’s standards are not up to what they should be.’ You therefore need to make a conscious and honest effort to earn your manager’s trust by succeeding in the dimensions that he cares about. ‘You absolutely, positively must deliver and deliver in a way that doesn’t increase your boss’s stress. In fact, identify things that reduce your boss’s stress,’ says Manzoni. He suggests you say to your manager, ‘I see you’re under unbelievable pressure, how can I help?'” the article says.
Take the initiative
Katie Douthwaite Wolf provides insight in an article for The Muse.
“A lot of the tasks my boss assigned me (and constantly reminded me about) were tasks I knew I was supposed to do—she just wanted to make extra sure that I had them on my radar. It was incredibly frustrating when she’d walk into my office to say, ‘Hey, I just wanted to remind you that we need to get the weekly schedule emailed out today,’ when I was already well aware of the assignment. (Seriously, I did it every week.)
So, a great start to halting micromanagement in its tracks is to anticipate the tasks that your manager expects and get them done well ahead of time. If you reply, ‘I actually already left a draft of the schedule on your desk for your review,’ enough times, you’ll minimize the need for her reminders. She’ll realize that you have your responsibilities on track—and that she doesn’t need to watch your every move,” she writes.
Keep track of what you complete
Beverly West features advice from Susan O’Brien, president of Career Management Systems, in a Monster article. The key is to show you have things under control and to show, importantly, that you can anticipate what’s ahead.
“A good way of proving yourself as an effective independent worker is keeping track of your work. O’Brien recommends accurately documenting your daily performance, so that in case of a dispute, you can point to your records. Conversely, you should also keep a record of your boss’s requests so that if your boss says one thing and does another, you can point that out, too,” West writes.