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posted: 11/10/2013 6:25 AM

Career Coach: Managing a micromanager

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Micromanagement: that dreaded word. I can't tell you how many times I have asked employees what their greatest stress factor is at work and they say, "Having a micromanager for a boss."

The strange thing about micromanagement is that while people are quick to point out when others are doing it, they seem to have trouble recognizing when they do it themselves. I've never heard anyone admit to being a micromanager, and the people who are constantly telling us they are not micromanagers are often the worst culprits.

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When you ask someone to characterize a micromanager, they say things like:

"He leaves me a detailed list of exactly what I have to do and how I have to do it. I have absolutely no latitude at all ."

"She sends me multiple emails a day, all labeled URGENT."

"She reminds me of tasks I have to do several times a day, despite the fact that I always get them done each week."

"He not only checks on my work, but goes to my subordinates and tries to control what they are doing."

"Every decision I make has to be first checked with my boss for his approval."

"I feel like I spend more time on giving updates than being able to actually get my work done."

"No matter what I turn in, the boss finds problems with it -- nitpicky problems that just demoralize me. I wonder why I bother turning anything in since she will just find something wrong with it anyway."

"It's in my job description to make certain decisions, but I still am told I need to check with him for approval -- I feel stifled."

"As soon as I make progress on a project, my boss pulls it back in and says he will now handle it."

Why do micromanagers exist? Essentially, they want to be in control, yet they can't possibly do everything, so they continually check to see if others have gotten their work done.

The downsides are the effects on morale and creativity in the workplace. Since their work will be overly reviewed and scrutinized, employees may wonder why they should bother trying hard to please. In addition, since they are tightly controlled, they may not be given chances to experiment or innovate. Thus, they will not take risks, which might be very important in some industries.

If you have a micromanager for a boss, what can you do about it? There are plenty of tips:

_ Think about your work. Is there anything you are doing (attitude, productivity, behaviors) that would suggest you need a manager hovering over you? Maybe you really are glossing over work and not pushing for closure on important projects or maybe your priorities are not in alignment with the boss. I say this because sometimes bosses need to be directive to help employees complete their tasks more efficiently or effectively. But being directive, while valuable, is not the same thing as being overly controlling. First, rule yourself out as the problem. Once you have carefully thought about yourself, you can decide what you might need to do to alter your own behavior.

_ Consider your boss' priorities and make sure to get them done ahead of time. Then, send a note letting him or her know what you accomplished so there's no need to check up on you.

_ Be a stellar performer. Micromanagers are often worried about performance, so you need to reassure them you are putting your best foot forward.

_ Try to understand what is motivating your boss' behaviors and need for control. This might help you in working with him/her.

_ Document your work so you can point to your progress when asked by anyone.

_ If you think you can talk with your boss to get him/her to delegate more (and take a more hands-off approach), it is worth asking about. You could even start with smaller projects to show your successful independent work.

_ At the beginning of projects, it is important to talk to your boss to see how he or she will be involved. Setting expectations and role clarity can help.

_ If your boss ever allows you to work on projects independently, make sure to show appreciation for these opportunities.

_ Try not to take it personally. Of course, this is very hard to do, but it is critical for employees to not let their boss destroy their self-confidence.

_ Try to gain the micromanager's trust.

Most experts do not suggest fighting the micromanager head-to-head since this can be counterproductive. Sometimes, you just have to walk away from this type of manager, especially if it is destroying your quality of life.

• Joyce E.A. Russell is the vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.

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