6 signs you're a micromanager

Alina Dizik, Special to CareerBuilder

  • Email

While being a micromanager may signal to your boss that you're on top of everything in the short term, it can mean career trouble down the road. Knowing what your subordinates are up to every step of the way can hamper delicate relationships and discourage productivity in your department, say experts. Instead it's important to delegate tasks and free up your own time for higher-level thinking.

Want to know if you're a micromanager? Here are six signs to watch out for:

Telling staff what to do

Instead of asking their staff to complete a project or task, micromanagers often tell staff not just what to do, but how to do it, says Stacey Harris, director of human resources at Bersin & Associates, a research and advisory services firm. The culprit is typically "concerns over a need to control the work or [to] look more competent," she says.

Be careful not to be too overbearing when giving assignments to employees -- being told what to do diminishes employee morale.

Taking back delegated tasks

After you've assigned a project, going back on your word can be a sign that you're a micromanager. Instead of letting subordinates solve problems and challenges at hand, some managers return those tasks to their own domain, Harris points out. Most of the time, "they believe they can do them more quickly and better themselves, [but] this reduces development opportunities for their staff," she says.

Excessive status updates

While knowing what those in your department are up to is important, asking for constant updates on their work can limit productivity, Harris says. "Updates that are too frequent leave less time for true progress," she says." Instead of over-managing each step of the project or assignment, it's important to let employees spend time developing their own ideas and knowledge.

Requiring others to always seek permission

Requiring those you're managing to constantly ask your permission to perform tasks under their control is another way to inhibit progress. While being consulted on tasks is normal, micromanagers need to be asked before an employee does anything -- even if it's in the employee's realm of responsibilities. "This controlling behavior strips subordinates of decision-making power, even when the decisions being made are within the sphere of the subordinate's responsibility or authority," Harris says.

Controlling information

Feeling threatened when you don't know the answer, but not pointing your subordinates to the right manager or authority is common for micromanagers, says Betty Brennan, president of Taylor Studios Inc., an exhibit design and fabrication firm. Another common faux pas for micromanagers is to keep pertinent details away from those in the department. "Withholding information and not sharing information makes the manager feel more powerful, yet is very inefficient," says Brennan who deals with issues of human resources at her company.

Asking for details instead of summaries

Even if it's difficult to trust those in your department to carry out a task, asking for a full report instead of quick update on their progress can be a waste of time for both parties. While unfinished work needs to be examined, there's typically no need to check every single aspect of the progress.

Being a micromanager doesn't mean your subordinates will automatically quit, but it's important to track these habits. In the long term, micromanagers can have a tougher time moving up the corporate ladder and gaining the confidence to manage a department. Throughout the organization, micromanagers "reduce or stop completely the process of developing talent and creating a strong pool of succession management candidates," Harris says. Learning to address these deeper issues of self-esteem and needing total control of your work can help you curb your own tendencies of over-managing your subordinates. While letting go of these habits can be difficult, it will help you grow as a manager and leader.

Alina Dizik researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.com. Follow @CareerBuilder on Twitter.

Last Updated: 09/02/2011 - 4:46 PM

Article Reprints
Permission must be obtained from CareerBuilder.com to reprint any of its articles. Please send a request to reprints@careerbuilder.com.