Help! My boss is a micro-manager

Micro-managers are a fact of working life. We can encounter them at any point in our careers, and at all levels of experience and seniority. Being micro-managed can affect our feelings about how competent we are in our jobs, and dent our confidence – if we let it. On the other hand, there’s a lot that can be learned from working with a micro-manager, both about the job itself and about handling professional relationships. What can you do? Try these 5 strategies:

1. Nail the basics

It might just be that your boss is micro-managing you because you’re not doing this. The often-boring, sometimes-routine, usually-repetitive stuff simply needs to get done, on time and right. If you’re neglecting the basics your manager will be quite right to check up on you; and if you’re neglecting them to swan off and do work that seems more interesting he or she will be quite right to be annoyed. Make sure you’re completely clear on the bigger picture for all your basic tasks – where do they fit in? For example, they may be crucial to cash flow, or other people’s workloads, or stakeholder involvement, or compliance. Have a conversation with your manager if you’re in any way unsure.

2. Agree the priorities

Your micro-manager may need reassurance that you’re working to the right priorities. What you might think is important may not be; what you think isn’t urgent just might be. If you’re floundering and not sure what to do next, ask for some time to have a conversation with your boss and agree which tasks are top priority, and what the delivery dates are.

3. Agree what’s required

What is actually needed, and why? For whom? Your brief update or detailed report may be going into a bigger document for publication, distribution to directors and/or shareholders, or clients. Or someone may simply need a list of useful links in order to do some quick catching up on their phone. If your micro-manager isn’t giving you this contextual information, ask for it – not as a demand, but out of professional curiosity and a desire to learn.

4. Make notes – and use them

When you’re being micro-managed, a good strategy is to take plenty of notes and then recap with your manager to “just check I have this right”. That’s right, just like a waitress or waiter in a restaurant, you read the order back. Simple, yes. Patronising (for you if not them), possibly. But usually very effective with a micro-manager. Trust me: if you’re not making any notes during your conversations you will be adding to their already high anxiety. Your notes will also come in very handy if your micro-manager deviates from what you’ve both agreed. Ask your manager if they’d like you to scan and send your notes to them.

5. Add value

One sure-fire way to win the confidence of a micro-manager is to check and double-check you know all the steps in the process. And it’s not enough to just know: you need to show your boss you know. You can both reassure your micro-manager and add value to the team if you document the processes for projects and jobs. For example, you can create checklists, templates and process maps. These tools can then be shared with colleagues so that everyone knows the steps involved. Use them in your conversations with your micro-manager, and they’ll probably love it (and no doubt suggest a few improvements).


You may also find this post useful: Ask a coach: ‘How do I get promoted?’.


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’

Got a question about managing upwards? Get in touch to find out more about my workshop on this topic. 



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