How do I get my boss to stop micromanaging me?

Have you ever made a decision, then have your manager question your work? It’s frustrating to take initiative only to discover your manager still wants to approve, or even alter, your work before moving forward.

When you are still learning and have low competence on a task or goal, you need your manager’s high direction. But when you’re an expert with demonstrated competence, high direction is suffocating. If you are accomplished and self-reliant, you don’t need to be micromanaged!

So, what do you do if your manager is micromanaging you? First, try to assume your manager has good intentions. Here are two possible explanations for the over-supervision:

  1. Your competence is unseen. Your manager doesn’t recognize that you have the competence to successfully complete the goal on your own.
  2. Your manager’s comfort zone. Your manager feels most comfortable providing a directing leadership style, even if it’s not what you need. Micromanaging is your manager’s need, not yours.

In either case, your manager is clearly not matching their leadership style to your need for self-reliance. Now is the time to manage up and ask for what the low direction and low support that’s appropriate given your level of competence and commitment.

How to ask for what you need

  1. Be proactive. Provide your manager with regular reports of the decisions you make and the actions you take -- or actions you are about to take. Despite your competence, you still need to build trust and confidence with your manager over time. You may not have all the freedom you want yet, but proactive communication on your own behalf will help you earn the authority you’ve earned.
  2. Educate your manager. Request the authority to make decisions without prior approval by presenting the business case for the request. Outline your experience, training, past decisions and high competence. Explain that asking for the freedom to do your job without interference not only takes advantage of your expertise, it also saves your manager precious time and effort.

Surveys indicate that we experience our best times at work when we get a leadership style that matches our level of development. The worst of times occur when we receive a mismatched leadership style -- when we are being over- or undersupervised.  At least, that’s typical. 

But one time, a young man in a class I was facilitating explained that he had the best of times when he was competent and committed on most of his goals and tasks, but his manager continued to give him high direction.

I asked him how that could possibly have been a positive experience since being micromanaged is erodes motivation by undermining your need for Choice (your manager is telling you what, when and how to do what you already know to do), Connection (your manager obviously isn’t paying attention or caring about your needs), and Competence (your manager seems to be questioning your competence, which can lead to questioning it yourself).

His answer? “I chose to ignore him.”

The young man’s next statement was especially wise. He said, “I realized my manager’s micromanagement was his need, not mine.” Now, that’s a great example of self leadership -- receiving what you need to succeed and letting go of what doesn’t work. An even higher level of self-leadership occurs when you proactively ask for what you need and use it to generate the positive motivation to make progress and sustain high performance. Either way, you’re in control of your own success.

 

Susan Fowler is on a mission to help you learn the skill of motivation. In her latest book, “Master Your Motivation: Three Scientific Truths for Achieving Your Goals,” she presents an evolutionary idea: Motivation is a skill. Providing real-world examples and empirical evidence, Susan teaches you how to achieve your goals and flourish as you succeed. She is also the author of bylined articles, peer-reviewed research and eight books, including the best-selling “Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager" with Ken Blanchard and “Why Motivating People Doesn't Work ... And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing.” Tens of thousands of people worldwide have learned from her ideas through training programs, such as the Self Leadership and Optimal Motivation product lines. For more information, visit SusanFowler.com.

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