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Open letter to the micro-manager

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Dear micro-managing megalomaniac,

I’m writing this letter to you on behalf of employees everywhere who have been subjected to the particular form of office persecution known as micro-management. If you are perplexed, micro-management is the phenomena whereby a senior manager or executive pays “attention to small details in management: control [of] a person or a situation by paying extreme attention to small details.” (according to the online Encarta dictionary).

You know you are a micro-manager if you demand daily (or more) reports, written or otherwise, on what we are doing every minute. You know you are a micro-manager when you ask to tag along with us during routine visits with vendors, suppliers, partners and others with whom you do business, simply because you say that only you can truly understand and represent the organization (trust issues, perhaps?).

Everyone else is deficient

You know you are a micro-manager when you want to know the “granular” details about everything–no matter how technical or outside your area of expertise. You want to know how the Internet works in 20 words or less–and please hurry, because you have another meeting to get to. If you fail to understand, you rationalize that we have some type of deficiency in explaining it to you.

You know you are a micro-manager when you believe you know more about everything than your direct reports, no matter what the subject or area of expertise. You know you are a micro-manager when you find yourself cracking down on “rogue decision-making” on a regular basis or if your greatest fear is that things (even minor things) are happening in the organization without your direct involvement (the horror!).

You are creating rampant indifference

Just a quick note to tell you how the above behaviours affect those who work for you. First, the micro-manager is responsible for creating rampant indifference in an organization. When we know we have no power, no authority and very little chance of influencing the outcome of decisions, we will eventually stop caring (or go insane!). By taking on the role of “supreme authority,” and generally crowning yourself the Grand Poobah of everything–we will quickly realize it’s not worth our effort to try to do anything well.

Second, and related to the first point, you cannot possibly be an expert on everything. That is why you hire people with different skill sets, knowledge and varied experience. So, the inevitable outcome of this type of dysfunctional management relationship is that you WILL make the wrong decisions. This is why you’ll begin to see even more sloppiness, disorganization and generally, poor quality work. It is this way because YOU are the one making all the decisions about things you don’t understand, you micro-managing moron! But, of course, it will never be your fault due to the next point.

Your supreme righteousness

Third, in order to be a micro-manager you almost certainly have megalomaniac tendencies. Megalomania is a pathological malfunction similar to narcissistic personality disorder whereby you have an inflated sense of self-esteem and overestimation of your powers and beliefs (source: Wikipedia). If you truly believe that you know better than, literally, everyone who works for you, about every subject, than you should check yourself into a mental institution immediately. Not surprisingly, megalomaniacs are often characterized by memory lapses involving any erroneous decisions they have made. This is how you continue to believe in your own supreme righteousness.

This is made possible by your amazing superpowers, which include an uncanny ability to erase from your mind anything you may have done that was wrong or even slightly imperfect. If you find yourself in disputes with us on a regular basis about conflicting versions of events, or if you are often told that you agreed to things that you don’t remember, then I’d hazard a guess that you are suffering from this disorder. In most serious cases, you have an ability to wipe the slate clean of responsibility (it’s the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” except Jim Carrey is somewhat likeable and you are not). If you do accept responsibility, you inevitably see yourself as heroic for assuming the blame for the mistakes of others.

So, here’s a news flash, your behaviour affects your direct reports in one of three ways: 1) I will begin to doubt my own memory of events and my confidence will be further eroded, making me an insecure employee, reluctant to make decisions at all or, 2) I will recognize your behaviour for what it is and begin to emulate it–ack!–creating a whole army of megalomaniacs to follow in your footsteps, or 3) I will simply pack my briefcase and move on.

Behind every high turnover is a self-confident micro-manager

I would argue that no employee in their right mind would tolerate such an environment for very long. The turnover rate in an organization led by a micro-manager will be incredibly high. The numbers don’t lie. If perfectly qualified and decent people up and leave their employer at a very high rate, there is likely a micro-manager somewhere, looking incredibly self-confident and insisting the problem is with everyone else. Take a look around, is your desk is piled high with decisions waiting to be made and is your email backlogged with questions unanswered? Are your deliverables perpetually behind schedule and do your staff look miserable and uninspired all the time?

Unfortunately, micro-management is everywhere and with the overall rise in narcissism, you and your kind appear to be weakening organizations at an alarming rate. This human resources scourge is affecting academia, not-for-profit, government, industry and the professions. You seem to have your hands into everything from choosing fonts on brochures, to worrying about voice mail recordings, to rewriting basic office policies and procedures as if they are the problem and not you. You are destroying morale and derailing productivity. Coming to work every day to work with someone like you is torture.

You belong to a seriously demented and destructive exclusive club of managers and executives blinded by your own perceived brilliance.

This is a plea to stop subjecting us to your self-aggrandizing, bullying behaviour. Your organization and your employees will thank you for it.

Sincerely,

The micro-managed everywhere

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Author: Jody MacPherson

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8 thoughts on “Open letter to the micro-manager

  1. You haven’t worked in academia, have you…? ;)

    • Unfortunately, it’s not confined to academia, as I’ve now discovered. Time to speak up about it.

      • From one fallen star to another….

        The part that gets me is that often this sort of thing is allowed to continue by some of the very people who could change it.

        It’s out of date now – but I learned a lot about workplace bullying while I was still in academia (which is an extreme form of what you are talking about) : http://www.minkhollow.ca/becker/doku.php?id=ethics:ethics In my case, once it became clear that my “friends” weren’t interested in stopping the abuse, I gave up tenure and a 23-year career that I loved. At some point it becomes more important to save yourself.

  2. Katrin–I also found that those who COULD do something about this, chose not to, for whatever reason. To be clear, I am not talking about my experiences in academia–I experienced this elsewhere, specifically in a charitable organization. So, I also decided to walk away and save myself. I did not want any part of it.

  3. Bullying and micro-managing go hand in hand. The interesting thing about bullying is that some people who are bullies don’t fully comprehend what they are doing. They see themselves as victims of an unfair persecution when called to task for their behaviour. In some cases, they may have been bullied themselves by someone else and in their twisted logic, see their own behaviour as a justified payback, even if their victims had nothing to do with it. It’s also sometimes a result of their own megalomania, where their ego does not allow them to admit to any bad behaviour whatsoever. Of course, there are those who are sociopaths, about 3-5% of the population.

    • I’m not entirely convinced this is bullying (says the girl who got bullied out of a job she loved – one she was considered very good at by others).

      Perhaps there are degrees of bullying. After spending several years healing from the damage done to me (a process which is far from complete) I am still reluctant to label all instances of toxic or incompetent management as bullying. However, there is no question in my mind that micromanaging is unproductive and damaging to everything from team dynamics to creativity to personal health. There is no question it does nothing good for productivity.

      Sadly, there comes a point where we come to the realization that we can not change things. That’s when it’s time to leave – as you did, and I did, and will do again.

      • When the goal of the manager becomes not only to make all the decisions and take control, but also turns into a campaign of ridiculing the employee’s abilities, denigrating the employee to other employees and externally, using threats of termination of employment (or demotion) to keep the person from questioning or speaking up, then I’d say that is bullying.

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