As most everyone would acclaim, it’s hard to work for a micromanaging boss—one who will not allow his people grow in judgment and decision-making as a result of maintaining tight control. What’s funny about this ailment is that we usually do the same thing to the people who report to us. But, somehow, that’s different. We rationalize our own behavior in the name of maintaining quality. Yet, when we experience the same from our boss, it seems downright unjust. Welcome to humanity. If we could just convert the learning of our own experiences to how we manage others we would do ourselves a professional favor and receive more career benefit than had we earned an MBA. The good news is that when we are being micromanaged we have a path we can follow that will enable us to gain freedom from our boss. My mentor used to say that he liked working for a difficult boss, because to him it became somewhat of a sport to gain his freedom.
There is one overarching reason why a boss will micromanage. On the surface it looks like he simply wants things done his way, but the real reason is internal—he is anxious. He is responding to internal urges that won’t allow him to let it go, for fear of adverse consequences. Embedded in this dilemma is an amateur’s inability to delegate to others using the time-tested principles that create his thinking and judgment in others—the protocol that brings true empowerment and managerial leverage. True management is, after all, a professional activity, a discipline. Micromanaging is the quick (so people believe), next best option that requires the least amount of time and intentional work to develop staff. It’s a downward spiral. So the question becomes, are those of us who are being micromanaged doomed to be everlasting victims of our bosses’ amateur behavior? As hinted above, no, there are things we can do to win our freedom.
To gain freedom from the boss, we must first understand his anxieties and begin there. Anxiety levels exist for a good reason in organizational professionals; it keeps them focused and accountable to deliver hoped-for results. It prevents them from being hap-hazard about organizational life. Consider the following principles and steps to gain freedom.
– We must put ourselves in his shoes. Only when we see organizational issues through his eyes and experience, can we have an appreciation for the pressures, quandaries and ambiguities he faces. This exercise builds knowledge and empathy in us, and aids us in developing an owner mindset. We then leverage the acquired insights and judgments to help us in the next step.
– We must be an anticipatory follower. If we want to win at hockey, we know we must never skate to where the puck is, at its current location. We must move to where the puck is going to be and get there ahead of time. Being an anticipatory follower means that we study our boss’s every move, analyzing his or her buying habits, and because we’ve already put ourselves in their shoes, we do the thinking before they’ve had the chance, and we get there ahead of them. This move sets us up for the next step.
– We must make recommendations. If we are “ask what to do,” or “waiting to be told,” kind of people, our boss’s hearts will sink when we walk into their offices. Young adults shouldn’t have to be spoon-fed like babies. Yet, having put ourselves in his shoes and having applied the learning garnered by being an anticipatory follower, we make recommendations that are at his level and give him the gift of time by solving some of his problems. What a nice perk to have an employee like this!
If we apply the above principles our boss will get more comfortable with us and trust us more, because we’ve demonstrated that we have enough smarts to do it right. What actually happens is that we drive down his anxiety level, and gain our freedom. This is not something that happens in a day’s time. By applying the steps consistently over time we are a more trusted resource.
The benefit of being a professional manager (versus an amateur) is that it’s not left up to the staff member to figure all this out—as professionals we take proactive steps to deliberately cultivate our thinking and judgments into our staff, and developing them into ones with an owner mindset more deliberately. Thankfully, if professional protocols are not being applied, as a direct report we still have a way to make it happen.
Coaching questions: What steps can you take to “get into your boss’s world” and see your work through his eyes? How can you then convert that knowledge to become an anticipatory follower? Write your answers in your journal.