A Leadership Expert’s Guide to Signs, Causes and Solutions to Micromanagement in the Workplace

Micromanagement is the one leadership style no one wants to have or be around. And rightly so. But sometimes it can be hard to spot and put a stop to.

Luckily for you, we’ve got all the answers, tips and insights you need from our leadership expert and trainer, Duncan Enright.

Let’s get started.

Manager teaching an employee the signs of micromanagement in the workplace

Micromanagement in the Workplace Q&A with Leadership Expert, Duncan Enright

1. Can you define micromanagement and tell us why it has such a bad representation as a leadership style?

“Can you feel the breath of your boss on your neck as you frantically work towards a deadline? Does the worry of pleasing your manager distract you from doing your best work? When you are working to the best of your ability, do you second guess your approach based on how you think your director will respond? Chances are, you are experiencing micromanagement! A micromanager will attempt to control every aspect of a project. There are various problems with this approach.

  • It is a rare person who knows everything that needs to be known.
  • Risk for the business is very high if they go off sick or leave, as they carry all the knowledge and leave nobody who can take responsibility.
  • Staff who are micromanaged can’t contribute their own talents and don’t gain experience or self-confidence.
  • Most importantly, micromanagers are demotivators who often resort to bullying to get their way.”

2. Would you say that micromanagement is common in the public sector? Due to the importance of major and minor tasks and their volume or variety.

“Micromanagement exists everywhere. It is not specific to the public sector. However it is often disguised by managers who refer to rules and process to back up their behaviour. In safety critical workplaces it is common and might actually be required, so it is not fair to blame all managers for adopting this approach. Defined roles are important, and oversight is sometimes required. When it feels like too much though, it probably is!”

3. What causes someone to become a micromanager?

“Micromanagers may themselves lack confidence, which leads them to distrust the work of others. Maybe they are insecure so attempt to keep employees in their place. Perhaps they need to feel indispensable. But most likely it is a lack of insight that good management training can offer which leads so many managers to behave this way.”

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4. What impact can micromanagement have on staff members?

“If you are micromanaged, how will you grow? How can you learn to trust your own judgement? Once I worked for a boss who “marked” my work in red pen before allowing it to see the outside world. You can imagine how infuriated I was, particularly as he introduced grammatical errors! A good manager will learn to support staff to develop their own skills, judgement and confidence by adopting a coaching style of leadership, drawing out their insights and talents rather than squashing them.”

5. Are there specific “giveaways” that suggest you could be micromanaging? And is it possible to change to another management style after recognising these key traits?

“If you think you might be micromanaging someone, consider what happens when you are on holiday. Does the work rate and quality dip? Do you have to leave detailed instructions or everything will grind to a halt? Do you give orders and instructions more than ask questions and offer encouragement? Ask for feedback from your direct reports – a good regular appraisal system will incorporate regular “360” feedback from colleagues, reports and your own manager. That should give you a good idea of your strengths, and enable you to set about addressing weaknesses. Everyone learns all their life, and you too can learn to be flexible, using a range of management styles according to the needs of the company and the situation.”

6. Can micromanagement negatively your organisational culture? If so, how?

“A company in which micromanagement is the dominant style will not grow beyond the ability of managers to force it to grow. Staff left unempowered will become automatons, or leave.”

Learn more about how we are influenced by an organisation's culture

7. Would you say there are any pros to micromanagement?

“There are very few pros to micromanagement, and it is exhausting for everybody involved! I guess you might think it gets the job done, but it won’t get those moments when staff astonish you with their brilliance, or serendipitous discoveries are made, or someone surprises you with a new way of thinking.

If innovation is what you have in mind, don’t work for someone who is breathing down your neck! On the other hand, if you are the sort of person who wants to hang up their brain as they enter the building and have a restful day, seek out a micromanager who will do most of the work for you.”

8. On the flip side, if you’re the one being micromanaged in the workplace, is there anything you can do?

“If you feel you are being micromanaged, think about why your manager is behaving that way. Ask them if you can have some leeway to try a different method. Talk to colleagues, and see if they feel the same. Talk to the manager and explain how it limits your potential. Allow them to explain why they take that approach, and remember they may have good reasons.”

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