Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Working for a control freak

There are ways to deal with micro-manager but sometimes best option is to leave

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Barbara Bowes

EVERYONE, at some point in their work life, has encountered a manager who, let's face it, really shouldn't be in management.

One of the worst of these management types is the obsessive micro-manager. These managers are control freaks and perfectionists who can't or won't delegate. They stand over your shoulder, double check and nitpick your work and appear to enjoy their search for errors. They believe their way of doing things is the best way.

Some control freaks go so far as to create an artificial bottleneck in the workplace by requiring all communication to flow through them. Still others attempt to control their employees through manipulative behaviour, such as isolating them from other colleagues and trying to control their friendships. Some control freaks resort to aggressive behaviour, many times veering close to emotional and verbal abuse.

Micro-managers will quickly turn a workplace into chaos. They stifle innovation and creativity. Fear becomes the underlying organizational culture, which in turn destroys employee productivity and personal self-esteem. Trust between employees and management is non-existent, resulting in toxic relationships. Directions are often given as orders with compliance being compulsory. And, in many cases, the micro-manager spends a good deal of time diminishing their employees by negating their feelings, opinions and beliefs.

As well, if the micro-manager is away from the office, nothing gets done until they return. It's exhausting to work in this environment because all of your energy is sapped in the struggle to survive.

Most micro-managers will not recognize they have a problem. They are blind to their troublesome traits and believe what they are doing is right. They suffer from personal insecurity and are anxious if they feel out of control. As well, they don't like people who thrive on independence and autonomy because they are threatened by anyone with a different opinion or belief system than their own. Their personal insecurity also creates a driving need to always be "right," to win, to be "one up" and to look good.

Unfortunately, there isn't an easy answer for how to work for a micro-manager.

To prevent them from driving you crazy, it is wise to document your directions and replay it back for your manager to ensure you completely understand what is required of you. Then, knowing the tendency to keep close track of work in progress, provide your manager with frequent status reports. Always set goals so they can be measured, and always refer to the end goal rather than the process.

Keep good notes so that you can consult them if your manager begins to meddle. Be sure to meet all of your deliverables on time. At the same time, you need to recognize the feelings your manager's behaviour arises in you and seek outside support, otherwise you'll stay stressed all the time.

Some relationship experts suggest that tactfully communicating concern about your boss' micro-management might make matters worse. But if you do decide to speak up, be sure not to appear resistant or rebellious because this will cause the controller to tighten his or her grip. Avoid directly criticizing your boss, but instead focus your conversation on your own career needs.

Having this type of boss isn't something you as an employee have the power to change. You may have done reading on "how to work with a difficult boss" and you'll have some tactics and strategies that provide temporary relief. But there will come a time when you say, "enough is enough."

How do you know you've reached the "end of your rope?" What are the signs that tell you it is time to move on with your career? When stress accumulates, you'll experience physical, emotional and behavioural signals. These signals include fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, rapid heartbeat, shakiness and sleep disturbances. You might also find you've become a workaholic, yet don't feel any sense of satisfaction. In fact, you might feel a dark shadow permanently hanging over your head. Worse yet, you find you've started to doubt everything you do.

Most people who have experienced this type of work environment have stayed too long. Unfortunately, by the time they decide to seek a new job, their self-esteem has vanished and this puts them at a distinct disadvantage in their job search. To begin your new journey, you have to understand that while your micro-managing boss has always blamed you for errors and belittled your work, you are not the problem!

The first thing you must do is repair your self-esteem. This might require that you resign or take a leave from your current job for a three-month recuperation sabbatical. While it may cause some financial challenges, it is well worth it in the long run.

If you don't regain your self-esteem, not only will you not be attractive to a new employer but you might inadvertently select the same kind of stressful work environment for your next job. Seek help through counselling, read some self-help books, get involved in an exercise program and work to regain that sparkle in your eyes. Then, when you are ready, take time to review and understand the tactics of a micro-manager and ensure that you watch for those signals before you accept that next job.

Source: Controlling People, Patricia Evans, Adams Media Corporation, 2002; How to work with control freaks, Albert J. Bernstein; Tips for coping with a micro-manager, Jeff Davis, 7/9/02.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, is president of Bowes Leadership Group, a vice-president of the Women Business Owners of Manitoba and author of the Easy Resume Book: A Transferable Skills Approach. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 21, 2004 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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