Confession #4: Apparently, I was a micromanager

Ask any three people what “micromanager” means to them, and I bet you get three different views. And, I bet you all three would lean toward the negative connotation, because that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it: If you are a micromanager, you are not a good manager. If you are a micromanager, you are driving your staff nuts. If you are a micromanager, back off; you’re going to drive staff away.

Being on the receiving end of the Micro-Marvin or the Micro-Maggie certainly isn’t any fun, especially if they are extremely micro. But, is it really micromanaging, or is it paying attention to details? I think the difference depends on the manager, and I think it also depends on the staff that is being managed.

If your staff go nuts or leave the firm, I don’t think you can blame it all on the manager. I know some people would disagree with that and say the manager is solely to blame. I have learned to look at it from different perspectives—from the employee and from the manager.

An employee’s perspective

I worked for a Micro-Marvin. I heard things about Mr. Marvin before I even accepted the position to work for him. Didn’t scare me at all, because I was open to finding out for myself how this person managed, and I didn’t want to rely on another person’s perception. Bottom line? Yes, he was absolutely a Micro-Marvin.

I had to have constant check-ins with Micro-Marvin, and while he didn’t come out and directly request of me, I remember him praising me only when I used his format for (his way of) keeping track of outstanding issues. I was using my own way—no praise. I used his way twice—praise. When I reverted back to my method for keeping track of open issues—no praise. I got over it and quit letting it bother me; I had too. His way just did not gel with me and my learning/communication style. Both our methods got the same result (we both were on track for all the open issues), but we each had our own methods to work from, and we each needed to do it the way that was more comfortable and more effective for us. Getting that “do it his way” praise from him felt good at first, but I had to take a stand for myself in order to be more effective during our regular check-ins.

And in another example, Mr. Micro-Marvin was paying way too much attention to what was going on administratively. He had more important things to do, plus he had an admin manager and a facilities team who took care of the admin things. Mr. Marvin did not need to stay on top of those little, minor things (e.g., he was concerned about the placement of some of the signs hanging around the office, for gosh sakes). His admin team absolutely felt this was micromanagement. They couldn’t drill down enough to come up with a good reason why it was important for this Mr. Marvin to even be concerned about those minor things. So to them, he was definitely in his Micro-Marvin mode when it came to admin stuff.

A manager’s perspective

I was well into my role as an admin manager, supervising and overseeing admin staff. I knew I had high expectations for the admin team (heck, I have high, really high expectations of myself at work). I wanted to help them be recognized as professional administrators, who had great skill sets, and who could do just about anything the project team asked of them. I also wanted them to produce quality work.

So, did I stay on top of their work? Yes, I did, when it was needed. Did I Micro-Maggie the admins who consistently produced quality work? No, I did not. Did I Micro-Maggie the admins who oftentimes had errors in their work? Yes, I did. I had to stay on top of the quality of their work.

So what did I do? What could I do? I had to make sure I checked their work before the final went out the door. “Lucy” was responsible for documents that needed a signature before going out the door. When I discovered that Lucy’s documents were likely to contain typos, I asked her to show me her work before it was turned over for signature. Lucy definitely needed micromanaging. I liked to call it consistently checking Lucy’s work.

Another admin, Carmella, told me, “I turned down the other position because I heard you were a micromanager.”

Me to Carmella: Really. What do you think micromanager means?

Carmella: That you are always watching over their shoulder.

Me: Maybe it isn’t micromanaging. Maybe it’s me having to always review someone’s work because that someone always has errors in it. Maybe that someone doesn’t realize that if I let that someone turn the finished document in for signature, and the signer finds errors, that the signer will point out the errors to me and expect me to make sure the documents brought in for signature are error-free. So maybe, it’s not micromanaging in the negative sense that everyone thinks of when they hear that word, and instead, it’s me having to pay very close attention to someone who produces work that usually has errors in it. And if that someone would only start proofing their work before it goes in for signature, then I could stop paying very close attention to, or micromanaging, that person.

Carmella: Oh, I didn’t think of it like that.

So, what do you think? Is your manager really micromanaging, or is your manager paying close attention to details?