By Anuradha Gali
Learning to manage your micromanager may be one of the best skills you can develop in your career.
I have talked with many women whose bosses nitpick, are overly focused on detail, or tell them how to do their jobs. I’ve dealt with my share of micromanaging bosses and over the years I’ve learned how to manage a micromanager.It still frustrates me now and then, but I remind myself to put myself in their shoes, and provide what they want the best I can.
Perhaps one of the most annoying micromanagement tactics is the one-line email. These are those messages that demand something without any context, leaving you to try to figure out what your manager means and what he really wants from you. I’ve found that the best thing to do, instead of wasting time puzzling over it, is to hit “reply” and ask for clarification.
Most of the time when your boss sends you a one-liner he’s in a meeting and needs an update, or he suddenly remembers to check on a project and shoots off an email before thinking. Either way, asking for more clarity helps.
Learning to Manage, Not Micromanage
Letting go doesn’t come easily when you are responsible for results and outcomes; I’ve struggled with it periodically myself. Of course I would like everything done the “Anu Way”, but you can’t do it all and you need to let your people learn and grow for themselves.
When I was a manager for the very first time, I continued to act as a lead too, and made design and implementation decisions, from how to use a regex properly to validate email to creating the Elastic Search cluster. The lead who replaced me when I was promoted asked me, “Do you want me to stop using my brain?”
I had no idea what he meant at first, but then I saw that I was still doing his job because I was so passionate about my work. His comment made me realize that I had to trust him, I had to let go and wait for him to come to me for the design review.
As I continued to manage, I learned how to listen and ask questions to stimulate my employees’ thought processes and encourage them to grow. They had to be given the space to make their own decisions and to recognize what they needed to work on to achieve that growth.
Managing Your Micromanager
Having experienced both sides of the micromanagement equation, I’d like to share some of the tactics that are the most effective in dealing with a micromanaging boss.
Stay a Step Ahead, be Proactive
If your boss constantly reminds you about your regular or recurring tasks, stop getting frustrated with his nitpicking (“What is wrong with him? I do this every week and I have never yet forgotten or been late!”).
Instead, recognize what he needs and get it to him before he asks. When you anticipate him, and can reply, “I already sent an email Friday evening with the design proposal,” he will start to relax.
Keep Your Boss in the Loop
Micromanagers often have a need to be in control. They can’t do all the work themselves, so micromanaging helps them feel like they are still involved in everything.
To reduce this, actively include your manager. Give him regular updates, before he has a chance to ask for them. You might send him an email at the end of each day, outlining what you accomplished, what you plan to get done tomorrow, and any questions you have or any input you need from him.
This lets your boss know exactly where your current workload stands, answering his questions before he can ask them. Giving him the opportunity to address your questions, provide input, and suggest ideas in one reply to your email will help him feel involved, yet can prevent multiple mid-day check-ins. A bonus to this strategy is that eventually he may realize that you’re organized and detail-oriented and that you can manage your responsibilities without constant intervention, so he’ll feel comfortable pulling back and lightening up on the micromanaging.
Shift Your Point of View
It helps to try to understand where your boss is coming from, and empathize with his situation. This was one of the strategies that I found most effective. Recognize that your boss needs a lot of information that he can assess and then share with his manager. If you can show your boss that you are invested in his success too, and that you are on his side, you can often reduce his anxiety and his need to get directly involved with every single thing you do.
Work on Increasing Trust
As above, if you show your boss that you care about his success, you will help him to trust you more. Be collaborative and give credit to your team and to your boss. Being generous with credit and kudos can help a nervous boss relax and trust you more.
Beyond that, acknowledge the pressure he is experiencing, and offer to help. Of course, that’s what you are already doing, but actually saying it, and meaning it sincerely, can go a long way to increasing his trust. And when your boss trusts you, he is less likely to micromanage.
Relax, Stop Resisting, and Start Managing Your Micromanager
Finally, keep in mind that your manager’s need to micromanage is about him, not you. So many of the women I talk with think that they are doing something wrong and causing the micromanaging situation, but most of the time it is your boss’ issue. Maybe he’s insecure, or needs to be in control. Sometimes it’s just curiosity, or he wants to make sure he offers feedback on everything. Unless you are actually missing deadlines or not getting your work done, it’s him, not you.
I struggled with micromanaging bosses, and I resisted for the longest time. It was incredibly liberating when I finally gave in and started providing all the detail they wanted. Now it has become such a habit to keep my boss in the loop that I do it religiously. Interestingly enough, you may find, like I did, that even the hands-off type don’t mind the extra communication and information.
Anuradha Gali is a full stack engineer and manager who has served as Director of Engineering at Groupon and Shutterfly, and technical consultant at Adobe and Yahoo! She’s known as a designer and architect who galvanizes teams to get things done cheaper, better and on time - and who can pivot and relaunch at speed.
Anu was chosen for the 2016 CLUB Incubator because she’s an accomplished leader in technology and product development, a manager who develops thriving teams, and gives back as an active volunteer in STEM programs.
Ed. Note: We considered changing the pronoun in the examples above so the manager wasn’t always a “he” – but frankly, most often the engineering manager IS. That’s why we’re extra delighted to share these wise words from an exceptional engineering manager who just so happens to be a leading woman in tech.