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Three Career Lessons My Micromanaging Boss Didn’t Mean To Teach Me

Working for a micromanager can be trying, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still learn something useful.

Three Career Lessons My Micromanaging Boss Didn’t Mean To Teach Me
[Photo: Flickr user Garry Knight]

One of the first managers I ever had was what many people might call a micromanager. If I was five minutes late to work, he knew. If a client copied him on an email to me, he wanted to know exactly when I planned on responding. If I didn’t complete a weekly SWOT (“strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats”) analysis of myself to discuss with him, he wasn’t thrilled.

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At the time, this put him squarely in the “worst boss ever” category. And while I still don’t agree with a lot of his choices, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t learn anything from him.

Here are a few things that stuck with me—and truth be told, actually make me a better employee today.

1. Sometimes, The Nitpicky Details Are Important

I’ll be honest—I could probably sum up the first year of my career with something I used to say almost every day: “Meh, this is good enough.” Many times I saw things from a big-picture standpoint. And by that, I mean I’d look at the requirements of a task and try my best to get them done. If a minor thing or two got lost in the process, it didn’t bug me all that much.

However, my boss (on his kindest days) held me to a higher standard. Things I considered throwaway tasks suddenly became urgent, and for a long time, it drove me crazy to live under this constant pressure of “just fix this one more thing.”

But a funny thing happened after I started approaching my job the way he wanted me to: People across the entire company started trusting me with bigger projects. Sure, I would’ve preferred to have a manager who wasn’t quite so hands-on, but he did get me to see the value in paying attention to the details of even the most inane, low-impact tasks.

2. I Had (And Still Have) Plenty Of Room For Improvement

My relationship with my manager was simple. He’d tell me what I did wrong and how to improve it—and I’d go home to a sleepless night of worrying about whether or not I’d be employed the next day. I operated under the assumption that I did nothing well at work.

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While that wasn’t true, I’ve learned over the last few years that as much as I tell other people to seek out constructive criticism, I’m not very good at doing so myself.

And I look back on those daily critiques and wonder if the situation would’ve felt more positive if I’d simply asked, “How can I improve this?” whenever I turned in projects.

No matter how good I get at anything, there should always be a few things that make my boss say, “Hey, let’s talk about how to get you to the next level.” Sure, I didn’t enjoy how often that manager came down on me for every little thing or his approach, but I’ve come to appreciate the honest feedback. And I know that I probably grew more as a professional because he constantly pushed me.

3. Your Boss Is Only Human

I can’t tell you how many times I’d wake up for work and say, “Why is my boss like this? Can’t he just relax for one day and stop nagging us all about every little thing?” After I left that job, I heard through the grapevine about some of the circumstances that led my manager to treat me the way he did. And honestly, I had no idea he was under that kind of pressure when I was working for him.

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a bad boss who happily wore that label. And while I believe managers—no matter how great they are—should always be trying to improve themselves, I also now acknowledge that they’re human, too.

And in addition to that, they have their own bosses to meet with and goals to hit. In the case of my micromanager, his hands were tied in many ways, which led him to manage us the way he did. That doesn’t excuse the times he treated me poorly, but it is a good reminder that you shouldn’t take continuous feedback as a reflection of your abilities (or perceived lack thereof).

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It’s hard to work for someone who wants to know where you are and what you’re up to at all times. And if you’re at a point where you’re going home every night and stress eating because your manager won’t ease up, I get it. But take a step back and think about why he or she is treating you this way. If you can find a silver lining or two, I have a feeling that work might be a little more bearable (at least for now).


This article originally appeared on The Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.

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