An open letter to micromanagers

Dear Micromanager:

Owners of thoroughbreds never stop their horses mid-race, every ten seconds, to remind the horse and jockey how to run, where the finish line is, or that it’d be good to finish first. Why? It would slow them down. Only an idiot would do this.

If you’re a manager, you must assume you have thoroughbreds working for you. Your job is to give them what they need to win their respective races, agreeing with them on goals and rewards, but then getting the hell out of the way. Until they start jumping fences or attacking other horses, you must let them run their race.

Even if you are 30% better at a task than someone who works for you, the time it takes for you to check on them every few hours, and demand approvals over trivial decisions, costs more in lost morale, passion for work, and destruction of self-respect among your staff than the 30% you think you’re adding.  No one works well if they feel they are being treated like an idiot child. Having two people involved in work that should only require one wastes everyone’s time.

Perhaps you don’t think you are managing thoroughbreds and that your horses need lots of help.

This is possible.

But if you are in fact a micromanager, you started over-managing the first day others worked for you. You have no idea what they are capable of. You’re probably treating at least one potential Seabiscuit as if he were a toy pony at the county fair.

A healthy, confident, well-adjusted manager knows their job is to do three things:

  1. Hire thoroughbreds, point them at the finish line,  and get out of their way unless they ask for help
  2. Coach, teach, encourage and position ordinary horses to maximize their potential and approximate thoroughbreds in some of their work.
  3. Fire those who can never do the work needed without your constant involvement to make room for those who can.

If you don’t do these things, the burden of failure is on you. Good managers achieve all three. Mediocre managers at least are working towards good ends. But bad managers are too distracted by their own egos, paychecks or insecurities to recognize how self-destructive they are.

An easy test of micromanagement is to let your team know you are confident in their ability to do their job and offer, if they wish, that you will be less involved in their day to day work to give them more room to perform. Tell them you are available if they need you, but otherwise you will put some of your attention elsewhere. See what happens. Hold your tongue. Don’t demand to review that email. Don’t insist on regulating who can meet with who. Take one small step backward and see what happens.

Odds are extremely good the world will not end. Your best employees will be happier and more productive, giving you new energy to invest in the rest of your work or more afternoons where you can head home early. Some of your team might surprise you, and thrive with more autonomy. And for those who fail to improve or make mistakes, you’ve lost nothing, as you can step back in where it’s actually needed.

If you are terrified of trying this and have a list of excuses why this is a bad idea, the only thing you are managing is your ego. Perhaps you’re afraid to admit your people can function quite well without your approval or input on every stupid little thing. Or it could be you are proof of the peter principle, and would be happier and more useful if you stopped managing and worked solo. A bigger paycheck is not a healthy trade for making yourself and your staff miserable.

Good managers are brave, and generous with trust in their people. They want them to mature in their judgment and grow in their skills, preferring to err on the side of trusting too much than trusting too little. They take pleasure in letting go and giving power away to their staff, accepting that when someone who works for them shines, they shine too.

But if you do not enjoy these things, and struggle to trust you staff, or can’t bear to see a decision made or reward earned without your name all over it, you should stop managing people.  You and everyone who works for you will be happier if you did.

Hugs and kisses,


The people you are micromanaging

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59 Responses to “An open letter to micromanagers”

  1. Rowan

    This article sums up exactly what is happening to me at work. I am currently stuck in a small office with a manager who manages only me and insists on checking every single thing I do. I am not allowed to make my own decisions or disagree with hers. In fact, I’m not even allowed my own opinions on anything, work related or not.

    I’ve worked at my current place of employment longer than my manager, have a good track record and have a lot more to give to the company. Unfortunately I’m not allowed to, so I’m looking to take my skills elsewhere.



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