Madan Mohan Tripathy

On my way to drop my 17 years old daughter in her school for her School Final Math Examination, I gave her the usual parental advice- "Do not be nervous. Read the questions attentively. Make proper selection of alternatives. Attempt the easier ones first. Do not leave any questions unanswered etc." The 10 - minutes drive to the school was a monologue with my daughter listening patiently, without uttering even a word. Just before getting down from the car, when I attempted my final dose of sermon, she cut me short and spoke for the first time, "Papa, I am already grown up. Could you have some confidence on me? By the way, you have repeated it for the 3rd time." Then she gave me a quick mischievous smile and walked confidently towards the school gate.

Am I micro-managing?
She gave me some food for thought. My parental affection has failed to realize that she is sufficiently matured to take care of herself. When the realization dawned on me that not only I have repeated the do's and don'ts thrice now, but I must have repeated it 'N' number of times if all her examinations are taken into account, I could not but started asking myself " AM I MICRO-MANAGING?"

Do You Micro-manage?
Let me carry it a little further to our work situation and take the liberty of asking you; " ARE YOU A MICRO-MANAGER?" "Who? Me? Of course, not. May be I am a bit more methodical. Obviously, that is not bad. Is not it?" - This is probably going to be your answer, as I guess. You are in charge of your department/section/area. You are responsible for achieving and may be excelling the targets. You are to compete with your counterparts. You are also to ensure that your organization has an edge over its competitors. You want to be sure. You cannot allow mistakes of your sub-ordinates to be a bottleneck in your career or be a hindrance in the effectiveness of your department or the organization. You cannot leave anything to chance and you cannot accept surprises. You must be in control of the total happenings in your area of responsibility. So, you constantly monitor work of your sub-ordinates. You make the plan and give a detailed list of jobs and duties; you also set the deadlines. If you notice that deadlines are not met, you extend helping hands and sometimes you are forced to do the job yourself, because you feel you know better. Does it sound sense? Absolutely, However, in the process, you may toil more. You may work extra time. But, that is a part of the game.

Micro-management, an addiction
Honestly, every successful manager has resorted to micro-management sometime or the other; it varies only in degree and circumstances. And there lies the key - whether you are micro-managing for solving a problem or you are the problem?

Micro-managers, like many other addicts - whether alcoholics or fanatics or workaholics or bullies or bureaucrats or autocrats, fail to realize and admit that they are addicts - their addiction is in controlling others. But, if your habit controls you and if you become emotionally crippled and remain addicted to control and power in a compulsive drive for gaining success, then, I am afraid, despite all good intentions, you become a problem manager.

Addiction for control
This addiction for control makes micro-managers ask for status, data and reports from their subordinates more often than they could possibly need for constructive intervention. This addiction makes them more interested in the way things are done than in the results achieved. They tend to involve in trivialities and double check people's work, always on the lookout for something wrong.

During my brief stay in UK on a training program in Brook Field Manor Management Development Institute, I observed a Corporate Executive from a Manufacturing Industry in India talking over telephone for not less than half-an-hour twice daily with his sub-ordinates at the factory site in India to monitor the daily production vis-à-vis the targets. I am not sure of his contribution. Nevertheless, he must be keeping his sub-ordinates at the factory site in India on their toes ready with all the facts and figures to convey to their boss with weariness lit large on their face and giving a sigh of relief at the end of the telephonic conversation. He was probably trying to convey to his juniors about his concern for the industry even when he is under foreign assignment. He must be deriving a self-satisfaction that everything is under his control. This, may be an extreme example, speaks what Micro-management is all about.

Micro-management, a symptom
Urge for control is a symptom of fear, insecurity, lack of confidence and lack of trust. Root cause of Micro-management, virtually, is Fear - fear that something drastic may happen if they don't do it, fear that the organization will suffer. Most micro-managers micro-manage because of their concern about the health, safety and financial viability of the organization. Intention is usually not bad; it is because they care that gives rise to concern and fear. Micro-management may also arise out of the feeling of insecurity of the incumbent about his own role in the organization. He may be scared that his position or authority is threatened. This feeling of insecurity prompts him to take all the important decisions himself and require frequent detailed reports and data, checking and rechecking to ensure that everything is under his control. Further, managers, as they grow in the organizational ladder, are required to let go certain duties which they enjoy doing and which has catapulted them to a higher position. So, they tend to continue doing the same jobs done by them earlier as they are more at home in those jobs. This explains Works Head of an organization spending hours on the shop-floor supervising break-down repair or capital repairs in a shop or a Chief executive keeping a large drawing board in his office and spending several hours a week at it tinkering around with the designs. Lack of self-confidence in new role may be the reason. Lack of trust on the sub-ordinates, a feeling that "subordinates would not do the job as well as I could" could be another cause. Micro-management also arises out of secret fear that subordinates may outstrip him and gain promotion over his head.

Micro-management & sub-ordinates
One of my friend working with a classic micro-manager summarizes his encounter with his boss this way; "When my boss looks over my shoulders with big bulging eyes and confronts me with a dozen questions about completion of a job which he knows have been completed to the detailed specifications both verbally and in writing given by him, I suddenly develop a feeling that I am back in kinder garden". Truly, micro-management jeopardizes employees' job satisfaction. There is no room left for advancement of the subordinates, as the micro-manager-boss does not relinquish responsibilities. This gives rise to resentment among employees. Sub-ordinates are so afraid of the constant criticism and so fed up with the constant follow up of the boss that they no longer take enough interest. Creativity dries up. Motivation level drops with plummeting morale. Productivity becomes the obvious victim. Sub-ordinates under a micro-manager cannot grow to their full potential as plants do not grow under a Banyan tree.

However, not micro-managing applies only to employees who have been fully trained and sufficiently comfortable with what they are supposed to do. This cannot apply for employees who are fresh recruits and are not competent enough to shoulder their own responsibility. You can't expect to throw a baby with a bathtub to a swimming pool to let him learn swimming.

Micro-manager himself as the victim
Damage done by micro-management far outweighs any short-term benefits that might have accrued. Micro-manager spends a lot of his own time to keep him apprised of the developments that happened, for jobs his subordinates are responsible for and to help his employees in their work. Since it is unrealistic to expect one person to do the job of all his subordinates skillfully, by keeping his hand on everything that comes in his way, a micro-manager at best is expected to be a mediocre manager. Who losses?

Further, because of over work, his other life activities are lost to work, Family life, hobbies, vacation, friendship, social contacts, peace of mind, rest and happiness are all sacrificed. Because of high pressure from work, they suffer from stress and become burnout victims. Physical and psychological symptoms of burnout like Blood Pressure, Asthma, Ulcer, and heart attack, depression, frequent irritation etc. surface and in the process they cannot enjoy their jobs. Peter Principle of Management takes its toll and the micro-manager ultimately becomes dejected, looses interest in his job and life. Unfortunately, when that happens, he does not have any sympathizer.

Micro-management spells mismanagement
Let me attempt a single line definition of Micro-management, which I have resisted till now. Micro-management is a management strategy with great or excessive control with attention to too many details. Micro-managers manage with rules, formulas, data, laid-down procedures, straightjacket budget, and financial ratios. They are so involved in the details of what happens in the organization that they do not have time for doing the strategic plan and obviously they miss the big picture. Micro-managers expect their sub-ordinates to deliver success but their interference assures failure. It is a good news that micro-management is increasingly recognized as a threat to the bottom line. By keeping them pre-occupied with insignificant tasks, magnifying mistakes and trying to find scapegoats to blame, exploiting people instead of developing them, issuing endless directives verbally or in writing, being obsessed with paper-work instead of result, working unreasonably long hours and expecting others to follow suit, they not only harm themselves but the total organization. It is rightly said, " If only boss is allowed to think, nobody else dares to think". Micro-managers by their management-myopia contribute to mismanagement and inflict serious damage to the organization's growth and development. Micro-management does not help in moving organization forward, as fixing weaknesses and problems cannot ensure forward movement. Micro-management should be dispensed with unless you want micro-productivity and micro-profit.

However, micro-management may be necessary when there is any crisis or when the organization is new and in the first part of the learning curve or when subordinates are not fully trained or competent to take up full responsibility for their job. The skill lies in coming out of the micro-management mould at the earliest opportunity.

How do you come out of the trap?
(i) First and foremost, you should not continue to have the delusion that you are the sole guardian of the organization's welfare.
(ii) Stay focussed and keep your employees focussed on a clear vision of the Company - where you want your company should head at, what you want your Company to achieve.
(iii) Develop to be a leader and stop hiding behind menial tasks. Successful managers chase opportunities and lead people to success. Make things happen instead of waiting for things to happen.
(iv) Delegate the day-to-day routine functions to make sufficient time to keep a tab on industry news, to study the competitors, to plan for the future - the strategic planning. The danger is not some slip-up an employee may make; the real danger is the neglect of critical management functions.
(v) Tolerate failures. Allow mistakes to happen. When people realize that they are not punished for risk taking, they will take more risks. Think which is more cost-effective. Allowing for mistakes by employees and encouraging them to correct their own mistakes fix their own problems or paying the price of de-motivated, resentful employees sabotaging you and all your good work.
(vi) Learn to praise rather than criticize.
(vii) Empower your people to take up responsibilities with training and development. That will make your job easier.

In conclusion, let me reiterate the questions -
• Are you a micro-manager?
• Would you like to continue to micro-manage?
• Would you like to come out of the vicious trap?

The choice is, of course, yours.


Author's Bio: 

The author Madan Tripathy is a HR professional with about 35 years of experience. He is a regular contributor on Management issues in different Journals of repute. He can be contacted at