Why Your Boss is Micromanaging You and How to Make It Stop

You know how to do your job and you do it well, so why is your boss micromanaging you and driving you crazy? Feeling micromanaged is frustrating, disempowering and demotivating. Being watched closely and having to report on every detail is getting in the way of your creativity and productivity. Let’s get to the root of the problem.    

Is it micromanaging or just managing?

Let’s call your boss Scott. If Scott asks for status updates on projects weekly and gives you guidance, he is simply doing his job. He needs to know what his team is doing; he needs the opportunity to contribute ideas when appropriate, and he needs to keep people accountable. That’s a manager’s job. Don’t be offended by it. Be grateful to work for someone who cares enough to take interest in what you do and who does what he can to support his team

However, if Scott asks to be CCed on every email and wants to preview, edit, and approve any report you may write, you have a problem on your hands. If he wants to know about every meeting and every conversation you have on campus, it is urgent for you to learn how to reassure him. His excessive involvement in details is likely to create a bottleneck, frustrate you, and ultimately hurt the quality of your work instead of improving it.

What causes micromanagement  

Every human behavior aims to satisfy needs.

If Scott is micromanaging you, it is because this behavior helps get his professional needs met. If you confront him about his undesirable behavior, you are likely to make him defensive and trust you even less than he does now. Your best approach is to understand what needs he is trying to meet and find a different way to get his needs met without having to micromanage. Here are some examples.

1.     The control freak

The control freak micromanages because he wants things done a certain way and isn’t comfortable with different approaches. He believes his way is the best. His desire for perfection leads him to impose his preferences on others. His rigidity can be very stifling and demotivating for his staff members.

Control freaks are driven by the fear of failure coupled with a strong attachment to success.

In other words, they are terrified of failure and have a disproportionate need to excel. Their standards must be met by everyone under their supervision. Lower or different standards will not be tolerated by the control freak.

Staff members are expected to fully comply with directives and mistakes are not easily forgiven. If your boss is a control freak, don’t think you can change him. Do some soul searching. Ask yourself if you can accept him or if you should find another job.

If you choose to stay, understand that the needs your boss is trying to meet are:

  • Need to do outstanding work with no mistakes.
  • Need to know what everybody is doing.
  • Need to prevent issues and correct problems.
  • Need to look good at all times.

Think about what the implications are for you, in your specific situation. Generally, you have to be willing to implement your boss’ vision and strategy. Don’t ever say yes to his face then do something different when he is not watching because you will become a threatening enemy and make things worse for yourself.

It is difficult for control freaks to trust others, but not impossible.

By paying very close attention to what your boss wants and doing your work flawlessly (by his standards) you can prove to him that he doesn’t need to worry about you. You will get off his radar and can enjoy some freedom – as long as you don’t give him a reason to watch you closely.

Make sure to tell him about anything significant happening in your department. If you forget something he deems important and your President asks him a question about something he doesn’t know, he will feel humiliated and disrespected (by you). His inability to look “on top of things” at all times is an affront he will not forgive. Do your best to prevent that from happening. Set him up for success. Give him what he needs and you won’t have a problem.

2.     The new boss

The new boss may not be controlling by nature, but being new at his position, he is acutely aware that there is a lot he doesn’t know yet. He doesn’t know the culture, the history, or the personalities and he wants to learn fast. Even if he appears successful and confident, don’t forget that he feels tremendous pressure to make a good first impression and do a good job.

The higher up the person is, the less secure their job is. The turnover among Presidents is shocking at many institutions. A new President wants to please the Board, the leadership team, faculty, staff, and all other stakeholders on campus. It’s a nearly impossible goal, especially when someone was hired to be a change agent.

So before you judge your new boss, imagine being in his shoes, and start thinking about ways to make yourself a valuable ally. Surely, you have much knowledge to share. You know procedures and processes and how to get things done. You know the personalities on campus and how to work well with your peers. You have a wealth of cultural knowledge your boss needs.

Instead of feeling bad about your new boss asking too many questions, see it as an opportunity to help him be successful and have influence. Keep in mind what needs he is trying to meet: need to do a great job and look good. Help him succeed. Help him look good. It’s what’s best for your institution and for yourself too!

Clients often tell me how frustrated they are with new bosses who try to replicate what they used to do at their previous position. They seem to change things that don’t need to be changed. They sometimes make executive decisions before they learn enough about their new campus to know if their ideas are appropriate. Understand that some level of cultural clash is to be expected. But instead of joining the complainers and gossipers, choose to be an ally for your boss. That is the most effective way to have influence.

3.     The problem solver

I hate to say it, but sometimes supervisors micromanage someone (or a small number of people) because they see problems that have to be solved. If you are the only one being micromanaged, you are causing the behavior. It’s time to accept responsibility and discover what you have done (or not done) that’s causing your boss to treat you differently.

His need is for you (and everyone else) to do a good job. What looks to you like micromanaging is his attempt at evaluating and correcting work performance.

Maybe you were used to working for someone who was very hands-off and you don’t understand how much communication your new boss needs. You may appear secretive and distant, maybe even disengaged.

You may have different standards and expectations than your boss does. It is possible that what looks good enough to you isn’t good enough for him. Perhaps you were asked to do something but didn’t follow through, or did something different, or you missed deadlines.

I had a client who used to work for someone who had many ideas but pursued very few. My client got tired of working on projects that were quickly abandoned so she decided to wait a couple of month before starting anything new, just to see if her boss was serious about the idea or not.

Her boss retired and his replacement was the complete opposite. He gave great importance to timeliness and accountability so my client’s apparent procrastination (her old coping mechanism) caused enormous friction. Waiting had become her new normal and she had to get in trouble before she remembered that waiting is not acceptable to most supervisors. She believed her work performance was outstanding and she shouldn’t be micromanaged but her new boss had a completely different perspective.

Before you blame your boss, be courageous enough to take a look at your work. Be willing to acknowledge what you can improve and ask your boss for feedback.

Many of the problems I see on campuses come from people complaining about one another. Don’t wait for a 360 evaluation to start paying attention to what others have to say. Don’t ignore requests (or complains) from the faculty, staff, students, or other administrators.

Once you know what to do differently, do it! And soon there will be no more reasons to watch you closely. Your boss will learn to trust you and direct his attention elsewhere. 

If you would like to speak with me about solving issues with your supervisor, simply click here to make an appointment and we’ll talk soon.

Good luck!

About the author: Since 2010 Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits.  Audrey is the go-to Success Coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.