How to Get Your Micromanager Boss to Back Off

There’s one thing you need to know and three steps you can take.

If dealing with a micromanager for a boss isn’t the number one complaint I hear from high potential leaders, then it’s certainly in the top three. Pretty much every leader I’ve ever coached or spoken to has worked for a micromanager at least once in their career. The question that everyone always asks is a version of, “How do I get my micromanager boss to back off?”

To answer that question, I’ll offer one thing you need to know and three steps you need to take.

The one thing you need to know is that the primary driver of almost every micromanager boss is trust—or, more accurately, a lack of trust. If your boss doesn’t trust you to do the job well, you’re going to get micromanaged. As I’ve referenced here before, trust comes down to three factors: sincerity, credibility and competence. Sincerity means acting with and demonstrating positive intent. If you don’t have that, I can’t coach you for that.

Credibility and competence, on the other hand, are more coachable. Sure, you’ll need  to have particular skill sets and knowledge to do your job, but there are ways you can position your work so you build the trust that will make your micromanager boss comfortable with backing off.

Here are three steps you need to take:

1. Anticipate needs. When you have a boss, whether they’re a micromanager or not, you need to learn how to anticipate what they’re going to need and want to do their jobs. When you anticipate what they need, you can get ahead of the curve of the stream of requests for information and updates that micromanagers engage in. You need to be a student of your boss and their operating environment. Who is their boss? What do they expect from your boss? (Remember, leadership rocks roll downhill.) Who are your boss’s peers? Which ones are supporters, competitors or a frenemy combination of the two? How do those dynamics impact your boss’s needs and wants? How is your boss being assessed and evaluated? Make sure your work is clearly supportive of their success. If all of that sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. It’s the kind of work, though, that will make your job a lot easier over time.

2. Train your boss. Who’s going to train your boss how to not micromanage? You are. Partner with your boss to create an operating rhythm that works for both of you. Ask your boss specific questions about how they like to receive and process information and how often they like to get updated. Are the updates expected on a timeline driven by the calendar, by milestones accomplished, by problems that come up, some combination of all of that or by other factors? Come to an agreement on how and when information is going to be shared and then stick to it. If you’re consistent in following your operating rhythm and get ahead of unpleasant surprises, then you’ll likely train your boss into asking for less and less that’s outside the rhythm. As the trust builds, you may even find that they start asking for less period. Establish an operating rhythm and stick to it.

3. Show empathy. The final step is to show that you understand your boss’s world. An important question to keep in mind as you’re weaning your boss from micromanagement is “What am I working on that my boss needs to know about to be in good shape with their boss?”  As I talk about in The Next Level, that will mean that you need to let go of an inside-out perspective based on your needs and agenda and pick up an outside-in perspective that factors in what’s important to your boss and what they care most about. The more you can put yourself in your boss’s shoes and show that you get what they’re dealing with, the less micromanagement you’re going to get.

Anticipate. Train. Show. Taking those three steps and consistently following them can increase your chances of getting out from under the thumb of your micromanager boss and, instead, working along beside them as a valued colleague.