A micromanaging boss is every employee’s worst nightmare

People don’t leave companies; they leave toxic and controlling supervisors.

Micromanaging, a counterproductive process in business, is when a supervisor closely monitors and controls the work of their subordinates. It undermines effective management and has become more prevalent in some organizational settings today.

It’s particularly evident now in workplaces that have shifted heavily in favour of remote working, says Elena Antonacopoulou, professor of organizational behaviour and strategy at Ivey Business School in London, Ont. Many micromanagers, who thrive on control, have felt disadvantaged in our new virtual workplaces and, as a result, some have intensified their intrusive approach.

In its milder version, micromanagement may include a supervisor giving an employee an unrealistic and unachievable deadline. In its more insidious state, it’s a form of abuse, says Prof. Antonacopoulou.

“There’s a fundamental absence of leadership capabilities in micromanagers,” Prof. Antonacopoulou says. “Basically, they know they can’t inspire people. They are insecure and derive a sense of self-importance by undermining others’ work in ways that makes them feel better.”

The paradox with micromanagement is that, on one hand, it’s a process that ineffective managers resort to in the absence of any discernible leadership qualities. But there are also instances where a leader’s actions may be misconstrued, especially when they’re elevating and aspiring their employees to excellence, she says.

Steve Jobs: Genius or a bully?

Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple was a tech genius and a visionary. However, people who worked closely with him remember him as an autocrat and a micromanager, with a penchant for firing anyone that disagreed with him.

Mr. Jobs could have exacted the same level of performance from his employees, or even higher, if he had better leadership skills, says David Zweig, an associate professor of organizational behaviour management at University of Toronto Scarborough and Rotman School of Management.

“Leaders should lead, and not manage,” says Mr. Zweig. “Attention to details may have got someone into the leadership position. In fact, it can be considered a strong personality trait but the challenge is once we’re there, we have to move away from micromanagement and be more strategic.”

The survey

In 2019, recruitment firm Robert Half Canada surveyed 400 people working in office environments across the country. Results showed about two in five professionals surveyed in Canada (39 per cent) have quit a job because of a bad boss.

“This may be because some bosses have reached a position that exceeds their ability as leaders (they may not have been properly trained into management) or because they put their own interests ahead of the team, fail to encourage growth and development, and create more problems than they resolve,” writes Deborah Bottineau, the firm’s district director, in an e-mail.

“This data isn’t surprising as we often hear that people leave managers, not companies.”

The working relationship employees have with their supervisors is critical. A bad manager can effectively destroy the culture of the organization, she says, adding companies should boost staff leadership skills by offering management training and regularly gathering feedback on supervisors.

Coping strategy

Mr. Zweig’s advice to employees stuck with a micromanager is that they should start by having a frank discussion with their supervisor and present evidence, like performance reviews and other successes, to show how their micromanagement is unnecessary. But he warns, how your boss reacts during the chat may be key. It might mean some employees have no choice but to consider getting another job.

“We can’t change toxic managers,” he says. “Some people are just bad leaders.”

RADHIKA PANJWANISPECIAL

TO THE GLOBE AND MAILP

Published November 14,2021

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