Oh, micromanagers--the famous label that's applied to many bosses who are overbearing, over-analyzing, and overly task-oriented. We've all seen it. Many of us have left jobs because of it.
No one sets out to be a micromanager. In my experience, it's the unfortunate byproduct of a few unchecked habits that get magnified once someone moves into management. Habits that, in the past, used to be the micromanager's greatest attributes. Skills and traits like detail orientation, analytical thinking, and independence.
It's hard to argue--these characteristics make for a great employee. They put their heads down, crank through work, and always follow the rules. However, with the transition to management comes a transformation of thought. This mindset shift is one of the hardest concepts for new managers to grasp. Up until the point they become managers, their value and worth were derived from their technical work--that's why it's tough for them to let go of it.
Therein lies the point that will help you deal with a micromanager--it's not personal.
I worked for a micromanager for two years. I'll admit, it was a bumpy road at first. We had two entirely different work styles and it caused some friction. Until we discussed those differences, I filled the gaps with assumptions (and we all know what happens when you assume). I assumed that they were inflexible, didn't trust me, and thought that I wasn't a valued member of the team. It negatively affected my attitude.
In reality, they were defaulting to their comfort zone (the skills and environment where they performed best) and were unaware of how it came off to others. Whether we're conscious of it or not, we all do this. It's not until we challenge ourselves and consider a new perspective that we realize we need to change.
For micromanagers, they're used to working independently and having control over their own activities. They generally gravitate towards analytical work because it's concrete and free from office politics. They also like the ability to work at their own pace without being slowed down by others, and don't like having to be concerned about managing the risk or errors others might create.
As you can imagine, that's a tough recipe for trust.
It's not that micromanagers can't trust--it just takes time. There is a proving period. Until that point, they'll have a harder time delegating work, have a tendency to hover to ensure things are getting done correctly, and will invariably follow up.
There are a few things you can do to speed up the process:
1. Find ways to reduce stress and boost trust.
However, it needs to be based on areas that they care about. If they are detail oriented, then don't miss any details. If they are researchers, then provide sufficient data to back up your work.
Micromanagers tend to shoulder a lot of responsibility--mainly due to their fear of delegating it. The work piles up, and their stress levels rise. Making it a habit of asking them how you can help, then delivering consistent results, will break down the barriers they set and signal that you're accountable.
2. Make upfront commitments.
Making upfront commitments on standards, rules, and approach, and then executing based on that input, shows micromanagers that you understand the gravity of the situation, are taking the work seriously, and are reliable.
Every time you commit to something and operate according to plan, you'll build credibility.
3. Create a feedback loop.
Even if you're able to accomplish Nos. 1 and 2, your manager will still need to feel like they are in control. The best way to give them a sense of control is to provide frequent updates and be receptive to their feedback.
Every time you ask and incorporate their input, you'll reduce the anxiety they feel when delegating, and they'll be less hesitant to give you autonomy in the future.
The most important thing to remember is that micromanagement isn't a personal vendetta. With that out of the way, you'll be more open and willing to put in the work necessary to build trust and earn autonomy.