Jul 15, 2023 | Articles

Please Don’t Stand So Close to Me

Straight Talk for the Micro-Manager

A manager’s involvement can take two different extremes and the result is terrible on each end. On one side you have the completely uninvolved manager and on the other side you have the micro-manager. You would think that somewhere in the middle is where your management style should land, but you’d actually be wrong.

There’s no argument from me that the uninvolved manager is a disaster. These are the people that never talk to their team, and never know what’s really going on. These are managers that “manage up,” and care more about how they look to upper management than figuring out what’s really going on with their operation. Their projects always end up in the same place—dead in the water. Because of this, they’ve mastered the art of spin control so they don’t look bad when the something fails.

But then there’s the micro-manager. We all know these managers as well. It seems like they don’t have anything else to do but constantly bug you for information. Then once they find out what you’re doing, they always have a “better” way of doing it and insist you do it their way. Of course if it works out it was their idea and if it flops you did something wrong. Their projects actually come in sometimes because of all the focus the manager is paying to the project. However, nothing is a true win when it’s at the expense of the team’s morale.

Actually, there’s nothing wrong with the micro-manager’s level of involvement—it’s their style of involvement that’s the problem. A micro-manager becomes a bad manager when they cross the line on what their role and responsibility is.

In general everybody has a role on the team. Stakeholders provide requirements to the team which may be further coalesced and analyzed by analysts. Specialists do project and process activities and estimate how long activities will take. Managers communicate expectations, make important decisions, support the team, and generally facilitate projects and processes through to completion. When roles get crossed, as what happens with the typical micro-manager, things get confusing and frustrating.

So if you get the sense that you’re a micro-manager, my advice to you is this. Maintain the high level of involvement; however focus more on clearing obstacles and less on telling people how to do their job. Trust your team to do what they do best, and support them at every crossing. In the end, they’ll support you back by bringing in successful projects and running smooth operations: not because they have to, but because they want to.



John Weathington is a veteran management consultant who helps leaders manage difficult organizational change. In a recent effort he helped the Chief Digital Officer of a large, multi-national oil & gas company operationalize a radical digital transformation


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