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Micromanage - "to manage or control with excessive attention to minor details"

I sat on a board of directors with a guy whose favorite comment was "Let’s not micromanage the situation." That was his favorite comment until we discussed an area he was really worried about, and then he conveniently forgot the term.

I worked with this girl who complained incessantly about our micromanaging supervisor and "his big, fancy MBA." That is, she complained until she was promoted to supervisor. At which time she became the queen of all micromanagers.

I guess what I’m saying is that micromanagement is in the eye of the beholder. The one who is micromanaging feels seem like they are just doing their job and looking out for the best interest of the company. To the one who is being micromanaged, all they feel is the boss’s breath on the back of their neck.

No matter who is involved, this inefficient management style amounts to a petty attempt at governing every detail of your business with excessive control.

The Problems With Micromanagement


  • Micromanaging wastes time and resources.

When you micromanage, you cheat yourself out of the time and talent you have paid for. If a boss must look over an employee’s shoulder, either that employee is incompetent or unnecessary – either way the organization doesn’t need them. Speaking of unnecessary, if you don’t have anything better to do than to look over an employee’s shoulder then you can’t be doing your job as a leader.

  • Micromanaging creates a climate of distrust.

At its core, micromanagement is based on a lack of faith and trust in other people. If you believe you must check on every detail, either you have failed to properly communicate the expectations of the assignment or you are terminally insecure as a leader.

  • Micromanaging doesn’t allow for growth.

In a climate of micromanagement, employees will never reach their full potential because their bosses are unwilling to allow them to assume full responsibility for a project. This repressive style will stunt creativity and hinder overall progress.

The problem is larger than you may think. In My Way or the Highway - the Micromanagement Survival Guide, Harry E. Chambers writes that "four out of five workers say they’ve been a victim of micromanagement." That’s 80% of your workforce. What do you do now?

The Solution To Micromanagement
Having been on both sides of the issue, I have developed a four-step solution to micromanaging using the acronym COSE.

The COSE Way

Step 1. Cooperation
Inform them of The COSE Way steps so they will understand the process. Work together the first time through the assignment, gradually handing off responsibility to them as they learn.

Step 2. Observation
Watch them perform the assign task, offering advice when required. This may seem like micromanagement but remember, it is only for a brief and specifically allotted time.

Step 3. Separation
Walk away from the project, allowing them to work alone. This is the most difficult part for habitual micromanagers but it is essential to growth.

Step 4. Evaluation
Set a time to evaluate the employee’s progress and provide more coaching if needed. If no further instruction is needed back away and let them work. At this point you may want to try something new – doing you own work.

While some may say, "If you want something done right you have to do it yourself." A confident leader says "if you want something done right, COSE someone to do it."

Michael E. Waddell

co-author of Toy Box Leadership: Leadership Lessons From The Toys You Loved As A Child