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 truly need help, or ask for it
  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 your 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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67 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.

  2. Stacey

    I have had two managers that micromanage. All my other managers were excellent. I did not realize it until I had these two insane micro-mangers. To make it worse I apparently piss micro mangers off because I just do not how to deal with them and say the wrong thing. I just think they are crazy. I just respond with things like well if you would leave me alone then I could get my work done and be productive. This does not go over well. Needless to say despite these mangers telling me I pick up everything up fast and they are not finding mistakes. I just can not make them happy. I just do not understand why they care if I use big paper clips, little ones or staple. It just really is not important and does not matter. I end up not working with them long unfortunately. I try to but they are impossible to please. I pick everything up quickly and have very few mistakes and certainly no costly ones. They say well you are not having any mistakes and you picked up your duties quickly. I think cool this is a good thing. Yet, they spend all their time going over my work that I already checked. Then they start picking me apart because they think I should use a different size paperclip or staple differently. I am very neat so my staples are straight and I just do not get it. I hope to never have another one again. I have got to learn how to say the right things to them. If I ever have one again.

  3. Mrton A. Bobo

    Many years ago I was given the job of heading a bank trust department. When I accepted the job I did so on the condition that I would be permitted to run the department the way I thought it should be run and without interference from anyone else in the bank. I assured I would not be interfered with and I never was. Likewise, I did not interfere with my staff. The result was exceptional growth of the operation and profitability. I’m convinced that had I practiced and had also been the victim of micromanagement this would not had happened. Micromanagement is anathemato business.

  4. Ashley

    This sums up my experience perfectly, and it’s so miserable. I used to love being here, and now I feel stunted and hopeless.

  5. Pantomime Horse

    “But if you do not enjoy these things, and struggle to trust you staff,”

    You gonna make me correct the obvious typo here, thoroughbred? It’s *your* staff, not *you* staff. 10 years that mistake has gone unnoticed.

  6. Mona

    The micromanager I’m dealing with is my immediate supervisor. I’m the department lead. This guy is so off the hook he will stop me in the middle of doing something to tell me to do exactly what I’m doing. He pulls people off their tasks and sends them to do someone else’s task, then gets mad that the person who is supposed to be doing their tasks now has nothing to do, and will send them to complete the task that the original guy was doing. Huh??? I have no say. If he is going to take a day off I get the details about how I’m supposed to do my job the next day with additional details on how our team is supposed to do theirs. We’re a sanitation crew. Each person has one machine/one job. It’s the same job every single day. I’ve tried to talk to him about his trust issues and micromanagement. He says I don’t know what I’m talking about. He’s supposed to do this. It’s his job to make sure the department is run right because it’s a hard department and nobody else can do his job and it can’t run without him. On his days off we work so much better, quicker, and pass inspection with less deficiencies. I heard a rumour he’s getting fired and I’m taking his place. That’s the only reason I’m hanging in there. Usually I just fight the urge to punch myself in the face.

    Wow! This is the first time I’ve vented about this. Felt great. Thanks!

  7. Paul Gillard

    This article is an excellent overview of the micromanagement problems we have all experienced at one point or another.

    A good manager hires and coaches thoroughbreds, then points them at the finish line and stays out of the way – I love it.

    Thanks for sharing



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