Why do you micromanage—and how can you stop?

Updated: Mar 8

The signs, risks, and roots of micromanaging, and how you can change your style

You’re the boss and it’s your job to lead your team towards specific organizational milestones. To that end, you assign an important task to one of these team members.

What happens next?

Do you “check in” often? Do you ask to be cc’d on every email? Do you provide near constant feedback on how this team member is executing the assignment?

Micromanagement. It’s a leadership style that many perfectionist, ambitious, and high performing individuals fall into, mostly without realizing it.

And while passionate investment in the details can be an asset, particularly within smaller teams, micromanagement has serious limitations. In its more toxic forms, it’s an organization-stifling force of negativity.

Do you do it?

So, are you on that micromanagement spectrum? Here are a few signs that you might be:

You take tremendous pride in being “detail-oriented”

Nothing gets past you. You notice every error. If everyone cared like you care, nothing would stop your team. But no one ever does.

You feel better when you know everything

You want to know what your team members are up to at all times. You want to be cc’d on all the emails. When they make decisions without you, you feel indignant.

You are rarely satisfied

Your team members rarely execute to your satisfaction. They finish late or their results are lackluster. They almost never do things the way you would have done them.

You are incredibly busy with minutia

It seems like every day, your agenda is crammed with what are essentially small tasks, deliverables that are below your pay grade.

Why you should stop

The fact is, effective leaders don’t “sweat the small stuff” like the micromanager does.

A great leader without micromanagerial tendencies could assign a task in such a way that it gets done well and on time with minimal check-ins.

If you’re a controlling boss who lives for the details, here’s why you’re not doing your organization any favours:

Your organization can’t scale

The length of your to-do list correlates negatively with your potential for growth.

In other words, the longer it is, the less likely you are to scale. How are you going to take on more if you’re the only one on the team who can really execute?

If everything has to go through you, you become a bottleneck your organization will be hard-pressed to fix.

Your team members are under-performing

Think your monitoring, support, and guidance is helping your team members to do better? Think again.

A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology demonstrates how people who believe they are being watched “choke under pressure” and perform at a lower level.

Copious research has found that micromanagement harms morale and raises the risk of burnout. The findings are clear: this style doesn’t help; it hurts.

Micromanagement is simply not a winning style. So why is it yours?

Why do you do it?

Most often, when we micromanage, we do so with the best of intentions.

We want to succeed. We want the team to succeed. The roots of our micromanagerial tendencies remain hidden from view. But they are there, and they are deep.

Why do you micromanage? Could it be…

Fear of Failure?

When you’re too fixated on the risk of failure, you tend to want to exercise more control. And a penetrating fear of failure fuels most micromanagers. If you’re fearful enough, trusting your team members becomes a big ask.

Desire to Prove Yourself?

According to Forbes, 48% of bosses want others to see them as experts and authority figures. But when this desire becomes too strong, the micromanager looks for as many opportunities as possible to prove expertise and authority.

When team members exercise too much autonomy, bosses who need to prove themselves feel superfluous and powerless.

How you can stop?

Taking a long hard look at yourself and admitting to micromanagerial tendencies is extremely hard. But if you want to change your style, there are so many solutions to support you in doing so.

This, fortunately, is the easy part.

Here’s the essence of an effective leadership approach that counters micromanaging: Your team operates according to the principles of clarity and accountability.

Clarity: your requests and the processes for fulfilling them are clear

To put it simply, clarity will help you to overcome your tendency to mistrust your team members.

In teams where clarity is practiced, when you assign a task to a team member, they understand 100% what is being asked. And they understand 100% how to deliver, because their workflow has been defined.

When you have specific standards for deliverables, you lay out a clear process with templates, saving your employees from needing to reinvent the wheel.

Accountability: deadlines are agreed to, and check-ins are only periodic

Empowered team members are accountable to their organizations for results.

They get deadlines for these results—and most importantly, they agree to these deadlines. If you are a trusting leader, you only check in on these team members periodically, and you have systems in place that facilitate reasonable progress updates.

If you want an empowered, trust-worthy team that will help you to scale, you need systems and processes that build this clarity and accountability.

Without these systems and processes, what are you going to do? Just breathe deeply, and let go? Not likely!

You need to know that when you do let go, your organization isn’t going to simply fall through your fingers and break into a million pieces. That’s more than fair.

I’ve seen leaders with micromanagerial tendencies experience liberation for the first time when they’ve built systems and processes.

... Using project management tools that define tasks and set deadlines with zero ambiguity allowed them to delegate with confidence.

... Creating workflows that eliminated confusion among team members strengthened their sense of trust. Nurturing their team members to take on more responsibility improved their cultures by leaps and bounds.

Most importantly, with the time these systems and processes gave them, these recovering micromanagers were able to work on themselves. That’s when amazing growth took place—for their organizations as well as for these leaders.