Just Say No to Your Inner Control Freak

Published: Sep 12, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Laura Stack

Are you a micromanager? Ask yourself these 10 questions to find out. (Warning: too many “yes” answers may mean you’re driving a stake through the heart of employee productivity).

Having a forceful personality provides certain advantages in a competitive workplace. It can help you work your way up the ladder more quickly than you otherwise might. But fair warning: If your favorite management slogan is “my way or the highway,” expect a few delays on your drive to the top.

You can survive with this attitude, but nobody loves a control freak. Your team will never give you 100% if you disempower them, hover over their shoulders, or constantly disparage their abilities or judgment. They will either resent you or get so nervous they won’t be able to do their jobs correctly. And if you’re always poking into their business, you won’t get your job done either.

Control freaks in leadership positions crush creativity, drive depression, and kill camaraderie. All of these weaken your lever’s input force. Worse, they also block the kind of frontline development and immediate execution of strategy that success depends on. So let’s check on your micromanagement tendencies. Read through these questions carefully and answer them honestly:
  • Do you often find yourself standing over employees’ shoulders directing their work?
  • Do you regularly redo employees’ work, even as a form of “instruction”?
  • Do you second-guess your employees’ decisions on a daily basis?
  • Do you require an approval or sign-off on every task, even minor ones?
  • Are you convinced of the truth of the old saying, “If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself”?
  • Do you work 12-plus hours a day?
  • Do you recheck the work of those you’re responsible for?
  • Do you have a hard time focusing on the big picture and drown in minutiae instead?
  • Do you get involved in little $12-per-hour details?
  • Are you so insatiably curious that you just have to know what’s going on behind the scenes?
If you answered “yes” to more than a couple of these questions, then you have micromanager tendencies. You must fight them! If you answered “Yes” to many or all of them (or pretended you didn’t), then I have bad news for you: you’re already a micromanager.

Micromanaging drives a stake through the heart of employee productivity; it’s as simple as that. It’s as much about fear as it is about control. Micromanagers are not necessarily on a power kick; rather, they mistrust everyone. They’re afraid if they don’t “ride herd” on the team, everyone will make catastrophic errors. Afraid of the consequences of letting go, they hold on to as much of their power as they can.

The result? You create a stifling environment, in which both your time and that of your employees’ gets wasted. Micromanaging fails right up and down the line. Not only does it exhaust everyone involved, it’s ultimately counterproductive and drives away the best workers.

Furthermore, even when done with the best of intentions and the lightest of touches, micromanaging interrupts people. If you poke someone a half-dozen times a day and ask how far they’ve gotten on an assignment, you can’t expect them to get very far. When they have to answer you, it drags them out of their focus. In fact, employees often tell me their manager is their biggest distraction, always swooping in and checking on them, rendering them unable to get anything done.

Given that, where do attention to detail, intelligent oversight, and high professional standards break down and mire you in the trap of micromanagement? It all hinges on trust. When you surround yourself with competent, well-supported people and trust them to do their jobs, micromanaging isn’t a problem. But when trust goes out the window, micromanaging springs up like a weed. When lurking and criticizing happen incessantly, both productivity and employee morale go down the drain.

©2014 by Laura Stack. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Execution is the Strategy: How Leaders Achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time, by Laura Stack (Berrett-Koehler). Used with permission.

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About the Author(s)

Laura Stack is president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a popular keynote speaker. She is the author of What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do (Berrett-Koehler, 2012), Execution Is the Strategy (Berrett-Koehler, 2014), from which this article is excerpted, and four previous books.