How to Stop Being a Micromanager

Are you a micromanager? If so, this is the article for you. If not, read along anyway. ;)

Leadership is hard. Good leadership is sometimes downright hard to find, a needle in a haystack if you will. Unfortunately, most “leaders” get promoted to their positions due to pull promotions or being kicked upstairs, not because of their competency. More dangerously, confidence can be mistaken as competence.

There are indeed many types of bad bosses/managers/leaders out there; however you want to label it. Today, I invite you to take a deep dive into the infamous “micromanager” archetype.

Micromanaging is often seen in all articles about workplace culture as one of the biggest sins. But how do you even know when you’re being micromanaging to correct courses?

The biggest red flag is your team ask you about every single little thing, which translates to “We can’t make any decision ourselves.”, or “We don’t think we can”. Instead, empower your team to make the decisions themselves. Ask the questions and let your team answer, coach them if they can’t seem to find the answer, brainstorm with them if you don’t either. Lastly, avoid spoon-feeding solutions at all costs even when you’re dying to tell everyone yours. Create an environment where people can grow, that includes you.

Your team’s inability to make a decision without you also means you may have process and communication issues. For every project, make it clear who are the team members, who responsible for which tasks, who is the final decision maker, and continuously communicating with each of them to prevent any problem that may arise.

Maybe there’s a place for micromanagement. Some people may require more attention than others, or if your team is small enough (under 3 people). As a leader, you need time to do bigger things, like enough sleep, finances, coaching, strategies. Would you rather hover Jane from Customer Service all days to make sure she’s not on her personal Facebook or would you rather trust her to do the job she was hired? I hope it’s the latter. Create a process so you can check in with your team regularly, but let them tell you what they’re having problems with.

You want people who will work on the product to be able to make decisions by themselves without having to ask for your opinion all the time.

— Stéphane Martin

Let go of control.

The first step of stopping being a micromanager is to be friends with your anxiety. You’re probably an anxious person, aren’t you? That’s okay. I’m anxious, too. But did you see your tension spilling over to your team as well? That’s not good for anyone, it’s just gonna make your anxiety worse. You also got this job because you’re a doer, right? (so I hope). It’s time to do less. Yes, seriously.

Start with setting a parameter, i.e. ask yourself, How big will this task be? How will it take Susan in Design to finish it? Who is the reviewer? By when? Simple planning makes things clear and less overwhelming.

And then here’s the trick, let the work come to you. Let your people do the best they can, even if it’s not the best for your standards, when they say, “This is done.”, give them feedback of why it is not up to your standards. Not the how, the why. And let them go back to the desk and improve their own work. Soon, your standards will be theirs and they also learn how to plan the given task better while improving their work. This stops yourself from being anxious about the tasks. Stop controlling the quality of the work you don’t do yourself. Instead, start caring about how to get your employees to your levels (and beyond). That is your job as a leader.

What you need to be done will get done eventually, but you need to train your staff instead of doing tasks for them. Training your staff makes them better, they become happier. In turn, happy people become happy staff who stay for the long-term. Micromanaging requires you to manage them at all times, which is a waste of time and makes your employees miserable.

You’ll also become more well-rested, and the quality of the work is a lot better without you. Be okay with that.

“Leaders are (often) rated by their own bosses, which explains why leaders are so busy managing up — when good leadership is about managing down.”

— Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, author of “Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders (and how to fix it)”

woman sitting on gray leather sofa beside a man while looking each other

Photo by Eloise Ambursley on Unsplash


Practice empathy.

The first thing you need to understand as a leader is what your employees ask from you. Sit down with each and everyone and ask “What do you expect from me as your boss? How do you like to work? How do you work best? What do you think about how I should behave as a leader?” And then talk about your vision and how they can help.

In my experience, I’ve seen good leaders fail their companies because they don’t understand what the company is about before coming into the fold. I’ve seen good leaders fail their employees because they don’t understand their employees. Meetings like one-on-ones don’t work if you don’t empathise and truly appreciate your employees, what makes them tick. Being a leader means you need to understand the human condition, so you can understand your employees as humans, not just workers. Everyone is a human with their own goals and dreams. Find them out. Care. Really care.

Don’t offer your employees your sympathy. No one wants your shallow sympathy. Harsh? Maybe. Unlike empathy, sympathy usually stops at pleasantries. It doesn’t extend to actually feel what the person is feeling and act accordingly. Sympathy is safe, polite and distant. Empathy can be painful and difficult. Learn to tap into your humanity and empathy. Be brave to feel the painful feelings.

To practice, try empathy with your spouse and family to ease the process. When your spouse is talking to you, pay attention, sit with them. As a result, your relationship will improve. Now practice empathy with your friends, your children and your employees, whoever under your care. It is your job as a leader to do this. Do you want to be a leader? Then do it, before you have any subordinate. It gets easier every time you practice it, like everything else.

What does this have to do with micromanaging, though? Through this process, you gain trust from your team members, and you will trust them because you know their stories. And you let them do their jobs. Simple as that.

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”

— Ernest Hemingway

Self-awareness.

I believe self-awareness is the most crucial quality of a leader. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know there’s a problem. And usually, the problems start with you. Being self-aware helps you expand the empathy (and compassion) you practice to yourself. Therefore, you spend less time judging your mistakes and start doing what needs to be done. Being more productive, in turn, makes you improve faster by thinking more clearly.

There are many ways to become more self-aware. You can be low-key and ask the closest people to you “What are my strengths and weaknesses? What should I change about myself to be better?”. Or you can try doing personality tests. They may not be the best answer about who you are (the world undoubtedly contains more than 16 personalities). Still, they can at least offer some lens into your behaviours.

When you are more serious on the quest of understanding oneself, you can try therapy if you have the resources. And of course, meditation. Just 10 minutes of meditation a day can change your life. The hard part is to do it every day.

Get to know yourself. When do you work best in the day? Are you energised by talking to people or being alone? Why did you get tense at that comment Jon made the other day? Remember, a person can’t change how the world works, but they can change themselves.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

— Leo Tolstoy