Managing for Success

Micromanagement: Whose Fault is it Anyway?

Challenging managers come in all different shapes and sizes: those who pile on too much work and those who don't provide enough information, for example. But the bane of a highly capable employee's existence are supervisors who micromanage. For an experienced designer, it can be frustrating to work for someone who constantly looks over your shoulder.

However, there are two sides to every story: Before complaining about a micromanager, it's important to understand and appreciate the challenges of being a boss and to identify what sort of behavior might push your manager's micromanagement buttons. You may not be able to completely change his or her actions, but, with a little understanding, you can instill confidence and, ultimately, improve the situation. Following are some questions to consider to help you get started:

What is your manager's situation? If your manager is feeling pressure from the top, it may trickle down to you. Is it possible that your boss is under so much scrutiny that he or she feels that it's necessary to be involved in every detail to ensure projects remain on track and turn out well? Something as simple as regular status updates could be enough to ease his or her mind.

Do you "ask" for micromanagement? It's easy to blame a manager for overzealous supervising, but the truth is most bosses don't want to micromanage: They do it because they feel they have no choice. Do you meet your deadlines consistently? Just a few slip-ups could be enough to make your supervisor second-guess your abilities. Do you always turn in strong work? If your manager is unhappy with the quality of your pieces, have you had an honest conversation about how you can improve them? Consider taking a class or, if you're overloaded, working with your boss to delegate some of your responsibilities. Don't ignore your supervisor's feedback or assume he or she is too picky; in most cases, it's up to you to figure out how to deliver the level of work your boss desires.

Do you ask questions? Your boss may check in with you frequently simply because he or she expects you to have questions, especially with complicated campaigns or pitches. When taking on a new assignment, meet with your supervisor to clarify objectives and priorities. As the project evolves, consider checking in occasionally to make sure you're on the right track.

By asking questions up front and confirming that you're on target, you'll deliver the project your supervisor wants—and he or she will be less likely to micromanage you.

Do you admit your mistakes? A manager is more likely to look over your shoulder if you've done something to compromise his or her trust. If you flub a presentation to a major client, apologize to your boss immediately and see what you can do to remedy the situation. Even if you feel you were asked to perform under extreme circumstances, it's still important to acknowledge your blunder. Let your manager know you've learned from the experience and what steps you've taken to ensure a similar error doesn't occur again. That way, he or she won't feel the need to micromanage you through your next client presentation.

Do you ask for more responsibility? Most managers appreciate it when employees take more initiative. But doing so inspires confidence only as long as you do a good job with your expanded role. Before requesting additional tasks, make sure you have the time and skills needed to successfully complete the projects.

Do you grumble? Your boss may keep a closer eye on you if he or she thinks you're unhappy in your role. If you're unsatisfied with your position, talk to your manager about the problem. You won't engender trust by gossiping to coworkers or exhibiting passive-aggressive behaviors. Instead, be upfront about what's bothering you. Your supervisor will likely want to work with you to resolve the strain.

In many cases, if you can show your manager that you can do your job well, he or she is less likely to micromanage. The trick, though, is to be consistent in your behavior. A dropped deadline here or a snafu there is all it takes to make your supervisor worry enough to begin looking over your shoulder. By demonstrating reliability and routinely producing quality work, you'll be on your way to establishing a relationship with your boss that's more hands-off.

This article has been reprinted with permission from and written by The Creative Group. For more information, please visit their website at

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