micro-managing boss

Nobody wants to be a micro-manager. We want to trust our employees (even when they’re remote and we can’t always know what’s going on). We know they’ll do a great job, and we want to be seen as supportive but not over-bearing. It often comes as something of a shock when we’re accused of being micro-managers. The problem may well be how your hard, well-intentioned work is being perceived.

Micro-managing doesn’t have an objective definition. Your virtual team members might feel you’re spying on them, constantly bothering them for updates, and incessantly badgering them about their work. You, on the other hand, look at it a different way. You want to understand what’s going on so you can do your work; you want to keep the lines of communication open, and you’re only trying to help. Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to micro-manage or not. If they think you’re doing it, you are probably guilty.

Here are some behaviors that, well-intentioned as they are, can look an awful lot like being a pain.

Not telling people why you need the information you’re seeking.

If you’re constantly IMing someone with questions, or requesting progress updates, it can seem like you don’t trust that people are doing what they’re supposed to do. We all need to have the latest information to update our boss or other team members on what’s going on, or get an answer to a question so we can do our own work. One way to avoid looking like we’re constantly checking up on people is to tell them why you need the information you’re requesting. How are you doing on that project because I need to update the executive team,” is very different from “How are you doing on that deadline?” Given context for the request, people are less likely to suspect ulterior motives.

Anticipate the information you’ll need, how often you’ll need it, and build that into the process.

The easiest way to avoid constantly interrupting people’s work to get what you need from them is to build the reporting into your work process. When assigning a task, or agreeing to someone’s duties, it’s always best to know how often you’ll check in and when. This might have to be a little more often than you’d meet with people in the office, because you see them all the time and have access to them. People don’t resent giving you data, they resent being interrupted in their work unexpectedly. Remember, if you’re not getting what you need (or the person turns out to have been overly optimistic and needs closer guidance) you can always mutually agree to re-examine the process so that it works for everyone.

Set SMART goals.

Don’t roll your eyes. We all know that acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Time-bound. It’s vital that you and the employee both understand and buy into those goals. Make certain that you are specific about milestones, definitions, and reporting methods. You need enough, measurable, regular information that you aren’t sitting around wondering what’s going on and then, out of a need to know, appear overly concerned or anxious.

Make sure this isn’t just a work style issue.

One way to avoid being seen as a micro-manager is to ask the other person how often (and in what way) they’d like to communicate. If they like lots of communication and you don’t, come to an agreement about how and when you’ll check in. The same is true if you like a lot of short, informational meetings and they prefer fewer conversations but more depth. The feeling you’re badgering them may come from a simple difference in how you work.

If you must surprise people with requests or feedback, prepare them.

Little is scarier to someone who’s going about their work than to get an unexpected phone call or request to meet from their manager. “Got a minute?” might be a perfectly innocent request for a brief chat, but is easily misinterpreted as a problem. Let them know if the request is urgent, whether they need to drop everything, or can schedule soon but at your convenience.

Remember that the perception of your management style is based on both your behavior AND the other person’s mindset. If you agree to what will be measured, why you’re asking, how often you check in, and how you’ll communicate about the work, odds you won’t be seen as a micro-managing weasel.

Unless you are one. Then stop it.

If you’re looking for an all-encompassing look at how to successfully lead remote employees, get your copy of The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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