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Addressing the Micromanager in the Room

I thought this week I’d take on the topic of micromanagers head on. The question of how to address this challenge comes up a lot.

Being realistic, you probably can’t change your boss. So we’ll focus on what you can control – how you work for them

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Before diving into solutions, I find it helpful to understand why people micromanage: 

  • A Credibility Gap: The underlying issue driving micromanagement is often the manager’s fear of losing credibility with their own boss. In other words, if you don’t do the work “right,” they fear they’ll look bad. 
  • A Confidence Gap: This feels like lack of confidence in you. Underneath, though, it's a lack of confidence in themselves. Often they’re a new manager trying to prove themselves. Or they’re struggling with performance issues of their own. Perhaps even worried about their own job. 
  • A Capabilities Gap: A lack of leadership training is often the culprit. Most people become managers by being great at doing the work. Suddenly they’re thrust into a manager role, leading people who don’t yet have their same level of skill and experience. Without guidance, these managers assume their job is to intervene and correct rather than coach, encourage, and elevate. 

The challenge is, the path to overcome these gaps is counterintuitive. When the boss is fearful about their own credibility, the last thing they want to do is loosen the reins. But loosening the reins is exactly what the micromanager needs to do. Over time, the team will quickly gain mastery by doing the work. 

It’s easy enough to diagnose the boss’s issues, but what can you do about it? 

  1. Lean into the problem - don’t fight it: Have a can-do attitude and focus on the details. Do it the boss’s way for now, and do it well. Decrease your boss’s anxiety by being on top of your work. Be one less thing they have to be anxious about.
  2. Don’t take feedback personally - view the feedback as a learning opportunity: It’s hard to accept constant corrections and negative feedback. But think about it this way, you’re learning their way of doing things. Even if you don’t agree, you get insight into how they think. If their way really makes no sense, learn what not to do. If nothing else, their approach did get them to the next level up, so there’s definitely something to learn.
  3. Enlist them to teach you what they know: Try encouraging your boss to coach rather than correct you by saying, “I noticed a lot of changes and corrections. Can you help me better understand what I’m missing, so I get I can get closer next time?”
  4. Try building on their request: Rather than disagreeing with their proposals, you can say, “Yes I agree with your approach, and I think we could also try …” Or, “Here’s what you requested, and another option I want your feedback on.” Give them options so they feel heard and in control, which feels like collaboration rather than a challenge to their authority. 

Remember - you’re not giving in. What you're doing is reinforcing your credibility with your manager and gaining trust. It’s a long game. Over time, they’ll see you supporting them with a positive attitude, they’ll give you more independence once you’ve mastered their way. It’s counterintuitive, but it works. 

If you are looking for support for the middle managers in your organization, or you’re a middle manager looking for coaching, send me a message at