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Success at Work : Micromanagers

Have you ever worked for a boss who had to watch your every move? Someone who scheduled countless meetings which involved dozens (or more) people? A "manager" who always seemed to want to do your job for you, or, worse, who always knew what was wrong and didn't hesitate to let you know? What about the manager who has to approve every dollar you spend, even small things like staplers?

These are micro managers, and they are one of the worst things that can happen to an organization. A micro manager can start with an excellent team of incredible producers and change them into a useless group of disorganized, unmotivated, complainers.

I've worked for micro managers before and it's always been a miserable experience. One was a man named Gary. This "manager" was the owner of the company, and seemed to always be hovering over my shoulder, demanding to know what I was doing and making "suggestions", giving orders and sometimes just jumping in and doing the work himself.

Working for Gary was one of the most miserable experiences of my career, especially because his micro managing tendencies got worse as time went on. He would show up at client meetings totally unprepared, make comments at meetings that had nothing to do with anything, and had to approve every penny of expenditure.

Worse yet, when something went wrong it was funny how no one was responsible, lest of all him. He would just jump in and "fix it" (usually making it worse) and have this air about himself silently saying "I knew I couldn't trust you guys".

His "know it all" attitude cost us at least one major client and several contracts. Those of us who worked for him (and it was clear that we worked for him) were afraid to make any mistake lest it be driven into the ground, and dreaded the days when he decided he "had to take a look at what we were doing" to "be sure we were doing it right".

Sigh. Finally I wised up and moved elsewhere. I learned that trying to work with a micro manager is a futile waste of time - there is no such thing as "working with them" and they do not even understand the concept.

So what are the signs of a micro manager?

Constantly checking up on your team members - The micro manager has a need to be behind everyone's back at all times. He or she wants to know what their team mates are doing at all times, and will correct even the smallest thing without hesitation. Micro managers tend to hover around their team members, making sure that everything is "done right".

A good manager hires and trains people such that they are intelligent and motivated enough to get their jobs done. There is virtually never a need to treat people like robots - treat them like intelligent human beings.

Demanding to be a part of all meetings involving your team members - Micro managers insist on being part of every meeting, no matter how unimportant, so they can be sure they can control what's happening. In those meetings, you can count on a barrage of constant comments, questions and orders from this manager on the most trivial of subjects.

Better managers understand that they have team members who know what they are doing and allow them to do what is necessary without a constant need to know every detail. It's surprising sometimes, but most people want to do a good job and will thrive if given the opportunity.

Constantly scheduling meetings to "know what's going on" - Not only does the micro manager want to be a part of every single meeting, he wants to schedule lots and lots of meetings. This gives him plenty of opportunities to correct all of the issues "before they become problems".

Perhaps the most unneeded and useless type of meeting is the "weekly status meeting" which involves all of the members of a team. Good managers communicate so well with their team members that they always know what's going on and thus do not need these types of status meetings at all. When they do have them, the purpose is more to let their team members know what's happening instead of the other way around.

Inviting lots of people to meetings which are scheduled often - Micro managers usually have no idea what they are doing, and thus don't know who needs to be at a meeting. Thus, they tend to invite everyone on their teams, and anyone else that they think might want to be involved.

Virtually all meetings are unnecessary, and most people invited to those meetings which are important do not need to be there. Good managers understand this and thus limit their meetings to those that are necessary. They also only invite those people who actually have contributions to make or who really need to know what's going on.

Not delegating authority - The micro manager will never actually delegate any authority. He will pretend to do so, but never will. This is the CEO who still orders office supplies, the CIO who must approve every expenditure no matter how small, or the supervisor who insists on approving every change to the line. Funny how the groups managed by these guys can never seem to get anything done.

Excellent managers delegate authority to their team members. For example, if they hire an office manager, then that office manager is given the authority to stock the supply cabinet. There is no need to personally check over each order to be sure the proper supplies are being ordered.

Not delegating tasks - One of the most critical parts of any manager's job is to get other people to do work. This means ALL tasks must be delegated, except for those tasks directly related to getting other people to do their jobs. Managers are like movie directors or orchestra conductors - they do not act in the movie or play an instrument in the orchestra: they get others to do this PROPERLY and in harmony with the other players.

Approving every expenditure - A micro manager has trouble delegating spending authority, so much so that oftentimes even five dollar expenditures must be personally approved by him. The clever micro managers want "reports" of all expenditures instead, but will chew out someone on a moments notice if anything comes across in the report that is unexpected.

The great managers delegate spending authority by creating a system of authorities and limits. As long as spending is within the guidelines, it is acceptable for the team members to spend without approval.

Doing actual work instead of managing - The job of a manager or supervisor is to manage people. One of the most important parts of their job description is "managing" or "supervising". This is also one of the hardest points for many people to understand, especially people who have been promoted up the line. They are not supposed to DO, they are supposed to get others to DO. Except on the very smallest of teams, managers who are taking part in tasks on a regular basis have not delegated effectively and are not doing their own jobs ... and they are not letting other people do their jobs as well.

That's the key point about good managers - they understand that their job is to manage and/or supervise. They are not "doers" they are people who get other people to do the right things at the right times to the correct level of quality.

All hiring and firing decisions must be personally approved - This is one of the signs of a real micro manager. He has "delegated authority" for an area, but refuses to allow his supervisors to make decisions about who to hire. He must perform a second job interview himself to "be sure the person is right for the organization". He will personally write the advertisement for monster.com, insist upon interviewing everyone himself, and "gently guide" you into hiring the person he wants. He will question every single termination decision mercilessly, effectively preventing you from firing all but the utterly malicious basket cases.

Good managers delegate hiring and firing authority to their supervisors and managers. It is perfectly acceptable for a good manager to interview the one or two prime candidates for a critical position, but he understands he does not need to personally check out each and every decision himself.

You see, when a manager insists of interviewing each potential new hire himself and will not allow his supervisors to make firing decisions, he effectively removes a major portion of the supervisors authority (at least in the eyes of the people he supervises). It's clear to everyone that the supervisors authority is limited and thus he can be challenged, ignored and made more ineffective. In effect, his authority is dramatically undermined.

Conclusions - So what do you do about a micro manager? Either "fix him", get a new job or transfer to a different department. Little is more miserable than working for the micro manager, and if you cannot correct him, leave him to his misery.

If a micro manager works for you, then you must insist he correct his micro managing tendencies immediately. This person is destroying your team, reducing your profits, damaging your credibility and dramatically increasing your turnover.


Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets at [internet-tips.net parked domain].

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