How to manage a horrible boss: the control freak

18 November 2015 -


The latest in our series of managing horrible bosses looks at the micro-manager and how best to deal with a boss who wants to dictate your every move

Jermaine Haughton

The sight of your boss breathing over your shoulder is enough to put anyone off their work, but unfortunately it is an experience familiar to all too many workers, causing annoyance and frustration in equal measure.

Micro-managers are often distinguishable by their reluctance to delegate tasks to employees, and if they do, individuals are second-guessed and their work triple checked by their marauding bosses. While management does require an element of guiding and directing employees through projects and tasks, micro-managers overstep the line of respectability when they monitor and dictate every stage of the process.

In some cases, these quasi-leaders simply believe that they are the only ones who understand the business model and are the single most important aspect of the company’s success.

Unlike some more explicit forms of bad management, micro-managers also tend to be unaware of the severity of the damage they are having on the confidence, productivity and enthusiasm of their workforce, often excusing their behaviour as a search for “perfectionism” or for their workers to do things the “right way”.

Jessica Marie, marketing executive at Check Point Software Technologies, said the problem was largely down to managers being hired who did not have the required people management skills to lead a team.

Read the sorry tale of the accidental manager

She said: “There is so much emphasis on IQ in organizations, and not enough on leadership. Now we have a bunch of technological geniuses who are socially and emotionally inept. The problem? A complete lack of emotional intelligence, insecurity, and sheer incompetence on the most basic level.”

Another characteristic of the micro-manager is a propensity to only hand out the easy, boring or undesirable tasks to staff and pulling it back at the first sign of trouble. This provides a very fearful environment for many employees, as they become afraid to fail and restrict their own initiative and creativity to fit the demands of the boss – creating ineffectual “yes” men and women. This continual degrading of their work can be demoralising and often leads, unsurprisingly, to stress and discontent.

And without the reasonable freedom to fail, how can employees possibly grow and develop their expertise?

A study by Harvard Business School and Rice University professors on workers at six MGM-Mirage Group hotel/casino properties concluded that staff are more likely to be fearful of experimenting when their managers micro-manage; as a result, the employees learn less and performance and innovation suffers.

Understanding a micro-manager’s insecurity

There are a variety of different reasons why some bosses choose to employ a micro-management style, from work instability to deep-seated psychological issues.

Organisational specialist Susan K. O’Brien said: “Micro-management is a personality aberration of insecure individuals.” A bit of a harsh assessment, perhaps, but there is research from business psychology experts that suggests the need for control that micro-managers exhibit stems from insecurity in their own ability to produce the needed results.

This lack of confidence can transmit in reduced trust in the knowledge and skill of their staff to do their job properly. The underlying psychological issue of micro-managers is that most action – or reaction – is based on fear, not reason or evidence.

This causes major problems. First and foremost, their fear drives their need to control the details in processes, and their need for constant recognition.

With this in mind, workers should be aware of the patterns of how micro-managers work and behave. By understanding their pressure points, employees can avoid confrontations and limit their interactions with their manager by noticing potential problems before they escalate.

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