My Way or the Highway-Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Micromanagement

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By AMA Staff

Four out of five workers say they’ve been a victim of micromanagement. But what does the term really mean? In his book, My Way or the Highway—the Micromanagement Survival Guide (Berrett-Koehler), author Harry E. Chambers writes, “Basically, micromanagement is the excessive, unwanted, counterproductive interference and disruption of people or things.  It occurs when influence, involvement and interaction begin to subtract value from people and processes. It is the perception of inappropriate interference in someone else's activities, responsibilities, decision making and authority.”

Chambers lists these five defining behaviors of a micromanager:

  • Micromanagers exercise raw power.
    They love to flex their muscles—asserting their power and authority just because they can. While unable to subordinate themselves, they control others with an uncompromising sense of entitlement and self-interest.
  • Micromanagers dictate time.
    They like to control and manipulate others’ time. They don’t trust people to assess their own workload, so they routinely dictate priorities and distort deadlines. And while they guard their own time with an iron fist, they’re notorious for interrupting others, misusing and mismanaging meetings and perpetuating crises.
  • Micromanagers control how work gets done.
    They want everything to be done their way. After all, the boss knows best—or so he or she believes. They dismiss others' knowledge, experience and ideas—no matter how good—then hover over them to make sure they’re doing things “right.”
  • Micromanagers require undue approvals.
    They share responsibility, but not authority. As the “bottlenecks” of the workplace, they allow no one to move forward without their approval—even on routine or time-sensitive matters.
  • Micromanagers demand frequent and unnecessary reports.
    They are driven to know what’s going on. They monitor workers to death—requiring a stream of needless reports that focus on activity over outcomes.

How can you deal effectively with a micromanager? Chambers offers the following strategies:

  • Find out his agenda. Determine what’s really important to him, then work with him—not against him.
  • Take the information initiative. Don’t wait to be asked for information. Find out what the micromanager needs to feel confident and comfortable, then get it to him—ahead of time.
  • Practice the “art” of communication. No one fears inertia more than the micromanager. Show that you’re in motion on priority projects by communicating in three specific terms—awareness, reassurance and timelines.
  • Stay clear on expectations. Clarify your agreements in a trail of memos and e-mails.
  • Renegotiate priorities. Come up with a simple, straightforward method—such as a numerical or a color-coded system—for renegotiating the ever-shifting priorities.
  • Be preemptive on deadlines. The micromanager loves to impose and even distort deadlines. Be the first to talk—offering a timeline for when you can do a task (not when you can’t).
  • Play by the rules. The micromanager enjoys catching people in the act. Avoid being an easy target and play by the rules—particularly on policies regarding time and technology.
  • Learn from the “best practices” of others. The micromanager backs off with some people more than others. Watch those individuals closely to learn the secrets of their success.
  • Choose your battles. The micromanager will go to war on every issue. Don’t try to match him. Instead, choose the battles that are most important to you.

Finally, Chambers advises everyone to take a hard look in the mirror. If you think you might glimpse the face of a micromanager staring back at you, place your tongue firmly in cheek and ask yourself the following:

You might be a micromanager, if…

  • You wrote the book on MBHH (Managing By Hovering and Hounding).
  • You don't trust your people to do the jobs you hired them to do.
  • You never take a vacation because “something might happen at work.”
  • You have hosted a conference call when on vacation.
  • You pass notes to employees under the restroom stall door.
  • You put a time clock on the restroom door.
  • Employees celebrate your retirement—for months after you leave.
  • You follow employees during their drive to work in order to find a better route.
  • You are involved in day-to-day decisions at two or more levels in the organization.
  • You have ever called an employee who was on vacation to see how things are going.
  • You believe that allowing employees to make decisions is a threat to your livelihood.
  • You think that forming teams means employees will gather together while you tell them what you want them to do.
  • You have received more than one copy of Chambers’s book…anonymously.

My Way or the Highway—the Micromanagement Survival Guide is published by Berrett-Koehler,

About The Author(s)

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.