I sat in the hot Baghdad sun, listening impatiently as my commander explained to me how to formulate a logistics estimate, drawing out the consumption-replenishment math in a green tactical notebook. It wasn’t that I didn’t already know. He was just convinced that I needed a refresher course. His calculations were exact, his methodology following the doctrinal formula taught for decades in the sustainment schoolhouses.

I’d committed the cardinal sin of using a handheld device – a Palm Pilot if you can remember those – and clearly made a mistake in the formula I’d coded into the Excel spreadsheet stored in the memory. “You have to do the stubby pencil math.”

But I didn’t use a standard logistics estimate template. My template was honed through multiple deployments, rotations through the combat training centers, and years of planning experience. The formulas I used accounted for everything from variations in operational tempo to the impact of the local climate on consumption rates, while adjusting for the types of available distribution means. It wasn’t the standard textbook solution.

“You’re asking for 2300 gallons of fuel every day when you only need 2100,” he noted. “The tanks in those trucks aren’t baffled,” I responded. He just looked at me, confused. I continued: “Because the tanks aren’t baffled, they have to be filled for transport. I only need 2100 gallons, but you can’t safely transport less than 2300.” “Okay,” he replied, ”but what about MREs? Every other day, you ask for 17 pallets. But you only need 16-1/2.” He was right. “Do we ship broken pallets of MREs?” I asked. “No. We only ship complete pallets. So, I ask for 17.”

Before he could respond, the brigade supply officer pulled up in his HMMWV. “Is this the Class V turn-in point?” he asked. Then dropped several grenades out of his vehicle before driving away. “Trust me,” I sighed. “I can do the math. I need help with that,” I said, gesturing toward the vehicle as it left the compound.


Micromanagement is a plague in the workplace. It seeps into culture like a cancer and is equally destructive. It saps morale from the staff, diminishes productivity and motivation, and smothers creativity. Once micromanagement becomes the norm, mistrust among team members increases as effectiveness suffers; people start to worry about their status, their evaluations, and their jobs. Stress and burnout soon follow and people take to the exits with increasing frequency.

All of which is rationalized away by the micromanager.

Why people evolve into micromanagers typically comes down to two causes: a lack of leadership skills and an inability to trust others. The former is often the result of someone being promoted into a position for which they are unprepared; they are increasingly uncomfortable with the responsibilities inherent in their new role so they revert to their comfort zone where they don’t just dictate what to do, but how everything should be done. Issues with trust can derive from that – no one knows better than they do how a job should be done – but can also evolve from poor self-confidence or low self-esteem. They often perceive others as threats to their authority, especially among very talented, high-potential employees.

THE SIGNS of a micromanager

Being micromanaged is an absolutely miserable experience. But you might not realize that you’re being micromanaged until it’s too late to do anything about it and you feel like your only option is to exit stage left. And knowing what to look for is half the battle.

1. Lost in the woods.

A micromanager either can’t or won’t provide any vision or direction that might keep the organization moving forward. They bury their head in the sand of day-to-day minutiae and ignore the forest for the trees.

2. Delegation is for chumps.

A micromanager won’t just tell you what to do, they’ll tell you how to do it. And don’t be surprised when they just end up doing it themselves while making excuses about how much more efficient it is when they do your job for you.

3. Knee deep in the details.

On those rare occasions when a micromanager actually delegates a task, they will provide so much detailed guidance that it’s impossible for you to demonstrate any initiative. And it comes in waves – driven by the micromanager’s stream of consciousness leadership – ensuring that you’re constantly updating your work while they complain that you take too long to finish.

4. Mother May I?

A classic sign of micromanagement is delegating responsibility and accountability, but no actual decision-making authority. This forces you to ask for approval for the most minute things, allowing them to retain complete control while focusing blame on you when things don’t work out the way they intended.

5. Fire up the gaslight.

Micromanagers hate to have their (poor) leadership questioned or scrutinized. In those moments when you do, you can expect a confused look, like you have a horn growing out of forehead. They’ll tell you that you forgot something they said, or that you missed an email or a meeting. In the end, they will do whatever it takes to make you question your own sanity.

Micromanagement is Poison

These aren’t the only signs of a micromanager, but they serve as markers for the obsessiveness that fuels their need to always be right, always be in control, and always have the last word. In their world, no one else is as capable as they are, despite the haunting fear that their own incompetence will be revealed for all to see. Culture might eat strategy for breakfast, but micromanagement poisons the bacon so culture is dead by lunch.


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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.