“It’s just we’re putting new coversheets on all the TPS reports before they go out now. So, if you could go ahead and try to remember to do that from now on, that’d be great. All right!” – Dom Portwood, Office Space

Everybody hates a micromanager.

They hover over you, telling you not just to do your job, but how to do it. In excruciating detail. Maybe they mean well, maybe they don’t. Maybe they don’t know how annoying they are. But they are one of the single most painful realities of the workplace. They’re like the office boogeyman – you never know they’re there until it’s too late to do anything about it.

The typical micromanager wants a task accomplished their way. Exactly the way they would do it. So, when they delegate that task, they feel compelled to over-supervise, to provide instantaneous feedback that is neither helpful nor necessary. There’s often little context to their expectations, too. They want you to only use a certain font. They want words arranged in a very specific order. They want to spell out exactly how a briefing slide should be assembled. They remind you constantly about mundane details that really don’t matter that much.

And they drive everyone around them insane.


Understanding the why behind a micromanager is the first step in deciding what to do about them. People don’t usually start out as micromanagers; they are put into a position beyond their level of comfort and they feel an overwhelming desire to take control of their environment. In this case, you. Your co-workers. Everyone around them.

The behavior of micromanagers is typically rooted in one of three root causes: they want to feel a greater connection to their subordinates, they are more comfortable doing your job than their own, or they are risk averse – so afraid that your mistake might cost them their hard-earned position that they’re willing to over-supervise even the simplest of tasks. In the workplace, their behavior tends to manifest in several ways:

1. They don’t see the big picture.

They’re so focused on the minutiae that they miss the things that really matter.

2. They struggle to delegate.

They don’t trust others with more than menial tasks, and in the process overload themselves with work intended for others.

3. They build roadblocks to progress.

The desire to control everything ultimately leads to an obsession with approving every single task. And progress dies.

4. They have to be updated constantly.

When they do manage to delegate, the need to be constantly updated on progress actually stymies progress.

5. They make everything complicated.

From font type to size, from white space to bullet type, they miss the forest for the trees. They over-complicate the simplest tasks.

6. They don’t believe anyone else is capable.

Their frustration bleeds through every task, to the point they angrily take on delegated tasks “to do it right.”


Ideally, the micromanager’s supervisor notes the behavior and takes steps to address the issue. But, let’s be honest – the world is anything but ideal. Most micromanagers go unnoticed, undiagnosed, and uncorrected. They muddle along, driving talented people away from the workplace in the process, leaving a wake of dissatisfaction behind.

So, if you’re one of the lucky ones left behind, what do you do about it? In general terms, you have five options:

1. Find out what makes them tick.

Getting inside their head and learning their triggers helps you to help them. Is it you? Is it them? And what do you have to do to help them change?

2. Build trust with them.

Trust can be hard; it’s even harder with a micromanager. But, if you take the time to figure them out, you can start to communicate in a way and on a level that soothes them. This is a lot less weird than it sounds. And it works. It just takes time.

3. Talk to them.

This is an extension of the first two options. Build a dialog. Generate rapport. Let them know how you feel and that you want to be value added.

4. Establish expectations.

If you know you’re working with a micromanager, you know their personality traits. They don’t give useful guidance and they don’t give good context. So, take a few moments and walk them through that process with open-ended questions.

5. Maintain open lines of communication.

When dealing with a micromanager, find ways to feed their compulsion for updates in a way that allows you to work and them to not over-supervise. A lot of times, that’s a quick update during the day that ensures they know that you’re on track and making progress. Let them micromanage someone else.

Secret to Survival

When it comes to surviving with a micromanager, the secret is relationship-building. If they over-supervise, you over-communicate. If they get lost in the trees, you help them to see the forest. As trust builds, so does your freedom and your sanity. You might not solve the problem, but you might manage the symptoms well enough to survive. And in a micromanager’s office space, that’s a win.


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Steve Leonard is a former senior military strategist and the creative force behind the defense microblog, Doctrine Man!!. A career writer and speaker with a passion for developing and mentoring the next generation of thought leaders, he is a co-founder and emeritus board member of the Military Writers Guild; the co-founder of the national security blog, Divergent Options; a member of the editorial review board of the Arthur D. Simons Center’s Interagency Journal; a member of the editorial advisory panel of Military Strategy Magazine; and an emeritus senior fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point. He is the author, co-author, or editor of several books and is a prolific military cartoonist.