Are you a micromanager? Or do you just work for one? 5 ways to tell

Oct 14, 2022 /

This post is part of TED’s “How to Be a Better Human” series, each of which contains a piece of helpful advice from people in the TED community; browse through all the posts here.

Do you know if you’re a micromanager? Or — even if you don’t think that you’re one — do the people you work with consider you to be a micromanager?

The tricky thing about micromanagement is that while it’s universally frowned upon, it’s not universally acknowledged or defined. So even though everyone agrees that micromanagers are bad, no one is willing to admit they are one. But they’re out there.

In fact, one recent poll found that 59 percent of employees surveyed believed their boss was a micromanager. So if the majority of people believe they are being micromanaged, it means there’s a good chance that the majority of  bosses have micromanager-like tendencies. Do you?

Here are five questions to ask of yourself or your team to find out if you’re a micromanager. (PS: You can also use these qs to figure out if you’re working for one!)

Question #1: Do you have a long list of pending approvals and decisions that are waiting for your action?

Part of every manager’s job is to review their team’s work, make decisions and approve proposals and expenses. But just how many approvals are in the queue is up to the style of an individual manager.

Micromanagers tend to become bottlenecks. They want to review everything in-depth before signing off on it and, as a result, they leave people waiting and wasting their time in the process. Which can leave a team feeling like they’re constantly bouncing between “hurry up” and “wait.”

Bosses that manage appropriately empower their employees by communicating the standards they want them to reach and showing them how to demonstrate they’ve met those standards.

Now you might see having a long list of approvals as a symptom of your being overwhelmed rather than of your micromanaging. But you should investigate — if you feel overwhelmed and your team appears bored, frustrated or burnt out, it may be because they feel micromanaged by you.

Question #2: Do you react to poor performance by setting a new policy?

Across every team, there’s a range in performance. Even a high-performing team will have lower performing members. But how a manager responds to lower performance has a huge effect on the team.

Micromanaging leaders often respond to poor performance by implementing a new system that applies to the whole team. For example, let’s say one person was slow to reply to a message so the micromanager decides there’s now a teamwide “rule” that everyone must reply to all emails within 24 hours.

Bosses that manage appropriately look at each performer individually to see what they need to learn and what changes need to happen. But they rarely burden the whole team with new policies or systems to follow just because of one or two lower performers — they know better than to slow down the fastest runners.

But micromanagers do it so they can “be sure” it won’t happen again. However, the odds of it happening with high performers was low to begin with.

Question #3: Do you insist on joining your employees in meetings with important people?

When a new person joins your company, and especially your team, sitting in on important meetings or sales calls with them makes sense. You’re there to provide context and history, and give them real-time feedback. But as they grow into their role, it starts to make a lot less sense for you to join them.

Instead, your continuing to sit in on meetings with your employees signals a few things. It communicates that you don’t trust them to do their job without your input; that you’re insecure and you want to control their actions. But a lack of trust and a desire to control will inevitably cause these them to join a different team or a different company.

Bosses that manage appropriately know when their employees need guidance and feedback and when they can be trusted to be on their own. And when people feel trusted, they often become better at what they do.

Question #4: Do you spend too much time describing how to do a task or discussing what needs to be accomplished?

Micromanagers typically want to control every step in the process. So when they delegate tasks or create a plan of action, they default to dictating exactly how everyone on the team should go about doing these tasks or executing these plans.

But every team is a collection of different people with different strengths, weaknesses and personalities who are not going to want to act the same way you do. And mimicking you usually won’t be the best thing for them to do anyway. Instead, they should feel trusted enough by you that they create their own ways to act that’s unique to them.

Bosses that manage appropriately focus on outcomes rather than processes. They paint a clear picture of what a success looks like, and let the team and its individual members decide how to proceed. So rather than telling people what to do and how to do it, they tell their people what needs to get done and ask how they can support their efforts.

Question #5: Do you require daily or weekly activity reports from your employees?

There’s definitely real value in teaching a team to work out loud by asking them to keep everyone else informed about what they’re doing. But micromanagers tend to keep activity reporting to themselves and ask for reports to be sent to them alone.

Likewise, there’s real value in having regular check-ins with your individual team members, but micromanagers want to check in on every little detail of every task being done. Instead, you should be checking in with them to find out how you can support their work in general.

There are times when poor performers need to be placed on a performance improvement plan that includes regular activity reporting. But high performers shouldn’t be burdened with reporting in detail on the work they’re doing. Instead, bosses that manage appropriately allow them to them focus on getting their jobs done.

For bosses, it’s important to reflect on these five questions and see if you have any micromanager-like tendencies. If you do, think of how you can tweak your management style to be more empowering so your people can do their best work.

This article originally appeared on and has been adapted with the author’s permission.

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