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Natalia Rossingol

How to Break the Habit of Micromanagement

Do you struggle to trust your team, find it difficult to delegate, and try to control every outcome? You might be in the habit of micromanaging your team.

No one likes it when their work is being monitored all the time. Likewise, no one likes when unwanted help is imposed on them.

It feels suffocating. And rather than leading to positive improvements, it actually provokes the opposite – negative emotions, frustration, and defensiveness.

We all know that micromanagement is a bad thing. But can you do if you've fallen into those habits yourself? Sometimes, you may not notice obvious signs and unknowingly keep an overly tight grasp on team activities and outcomes – insisting that people follow your instructions to the letter, and giving them no freedom.

If you are concerned that your team leadership style might include some micromanaging tendencies, this article is for you. Here we will explore the phenomenon of micromanagement, explain its negative consequences, and suggest some tips on how to improve your leadership style.

What is micromanagement?

Micromanagement refers to a toxic management style that is characterized by excessively close observation and control of employees' work.

This can be expressed in different ways: managers might become overly involved in all processes, dictating how to perform tasks, refusing to share their decision-making power or delegate responsibilities, and continually asking their teams to update them on everything, including the smallest things.

They want things done in the way they think is right, and impose their view on everyone else. Think "my way, or the highway".

While this might stem from good intentions - for instance, trying to help the team achieve or exceed targets - micromanaging leads to a loss of trust and frustration among the team members. It also negatively affects the image of a manager as a leader. People do not see excessive supervision as a desire to help – instead, they're more likely to view it as an obsession, feeling powerless in the hands of an authoritative person.  

Why do people micromanage?

Micromanagement is typically a coping mechanism that lets a person maintain a sense of security and control. This desire to control outcomes might have roots in either personal or professional insecurities.

Let’s take a look at some possible explanations for why people may start micromanaging:

Poor management skills

When a manager does not have enough experience and knowledge of how to work with a group of people, they might become overly concerned with every tiny detail, trying to use all possible means to keep the situation under control.

Personal insecurities and vulnerability

An inexperienced manager might deal with "imposter syndrome" or a lack of confidence by micromanaging. By building an image of themselves as a powerful leader who has everything under control, surrounded by obedient team members, they may feel like they are succeeding in their role.


For some people, anything less than perfect is not good enough. And when a manager tends towards perfectionism, it inevitably affects the whole team. Everyone’s work will be regularly checked and double-checked, in an effort to achieve unreachable perfection.

Domineering, "old school" leadership style

We're in the 2020's: employees nowadays expect managers to be more democratic, approachable, reasonable, and empathetic. Increasingly, the top-down Taylorist mindset is falling out of favor.

However, not everyone finds it easy to manage people in a more laid-back, open, and collaborative way. Some managers may have developed some draconian tendencies throughout their career - possibly because they were managed like this when they were more junior. They might not even realize that their management style is problematic.

A fear of losing connection with employees

Having worked with the team members as with equals, a manager might want to maintain the same close relationships – to show that she is still a friend and to get some support while going through the transition.

Struggling to adjust to the new role

Very often, the position of a manager is the next step after a specialist's role, reached by promotion. People who have been promoted might still want to be involved in the nitty-gritty technical processes - for instance, when a Senior Engineer is being promoted to a Lead Engineer role – and, sometimes, miss the moment when it’s time to stop.  

Why micromanaging is harmful

Too much of anything is bad, and too much of a manager’s involvement is both dangerous and disruptive.

Micromanaging can lead to multiple negative factors that jeopardize the well-being of a team and put the overall team’s success at risk – let alone the fact it ruins the relationships in a team.

So, why isn’t micromanagement the best approach?

It kills trust

When you dictate people what to do, refusing to give them at least some autonomy and freedom of action, you send a clear signal: “I don’t trust you because you can let me down.”

This is demoralizing. People end up feeling trapped: their hands are tied so they cannot show their full potential – however, no matter what they do, they cannot gain the respect of a manager, because they’re a priori considered not good enough.

But trust is a mutual thing, and if you don’t trust people, why would they trust you? And that leads us to the next point.

It ruins psychological safety

A boss who tries to control everything is perceived as a tyrant. This means that when problems of different kinds arise – for example, any technical issues or interpersonal conflicts – people will not feel secure and confident knocking on the boss’s door to ask for help.

The result of that is low morale and poor workplace culture, caused by a constant fear of speaking up. 

➡️ Related: The Power of Psychological Safety in Building a Supportive Workplace

It stifles innovation

Without the right to make any decision, people lose enthusiasm. They do only what they’re asked to do, and don’t make any extra effort – why would they if it’s not welcome when they do?

As a result, they do not think creatively, out of the box, looking for new solutions. Even more – their productivity suffers, as they feel discouraged.

It leads to high turnover

The ambience of permanent pressure in the work environment does not inspire people to do their best.

Deprived of an opportunity to express themselves, add value, and make a difference, employees begin to quit – and a company loses skilled employees who, most probably, will join competitors.

It burns out the manager

Micromanaging is also harmful to a manager’s health. Having to constantly control everything and work with a huge amount of information is exhausting. Sooner or later, a micromanager may fall victim to workload paralysis, burnout, insomnia, or even serious health conditions like heart disease.

Are you a micromanager?

The problem with micromanaging is that people often do not realize they’re prone to it, or already practice it. We often lack self-awareness and may simply not notice that we’re doing something wrong.

However, here is a list of the signs that might help you reflect on your own practices. Step back for a moment and think: do you recognize any of these patterns in your own management behavior?

signs you're a micromanager

You’re overly involved in the work process

Micromanagers try to control every little step of each team member. They always explain in detail how to do a task, and expect that the instructions they put in place will be followed exactly.

You do not share your decision-making power

When employees are not able to make any decisions, it’s a red flag pointing that they’re not trusted. An authoritative management style can work well in constrained situations when there's no time for consultation – however, under normal circumstances, the experience and input of team members can help find the best solutions.

Nothing gets done without your approval

Making team members wait for your approval slows down the whole process. People waste time instead of moving forward, and the manager is overwhelmed with the amount of things that need to be approved. This is a no-win situation.

You request to be present at all important meetings

Supporting a new person who doesn’t know all the specifics and context to make the most out of the meeting is more than okay – it’s preferable. But when you insist on joining all the meetings conducted by experienced employees, it’s nothing but micromanagement. You signal that you doubt their competence.

You request to be added to every email

This implies two things: firstly, you cannot stand being excluded from any communication chain; and secondly, you’re afraid people might be talking behind your back. None of these can be called a healthy attitude.

You punish everybody for a single person’s poor performance

A team is a living organism, and it’s just natural that there will be people who have strengths in some areas but not others, or who demonstrate a poor overall performance.

A reaction of a micromanager would be to issue a new policy that would apply to the whole team. This is unfair, as it diminishes the contribution and accomplishments of other team members.

You’re too focused on little things

Micromanagers tend to give excessive attention to small details, losing sight of the big picture. This way, they fail to implement the company’s strategy, as they can’t see the forest for the trees.

You request extremely frequent updates

It is helpful to keep track of what everyone is doing. But how much detail do you need, and how often do you need it?

Unless you are using the information from employee updates - say, to help spot collaboration opportunities - you should avoid wasting your time and your team's time by getting them to fill you in at every step.

You never delegate tasks

After all, who can do the job better than you? Or perhaps you don't trust your people not to mess things up?

Of course, such an opinion is not just egotistic but also counter-productive: you exhaust yourself, letting your task pile grow and grow. Eventually, you'll even be failing to meet your own standards.

You’re never satisfied

If you doubt your team, you will develop a negative mindset that would make you subconsciously look for potential mistakes. And since nobody is perfect, the mistakes will be found. This creates a vicious circle: you don’t trust your team, and you continuously find proof that they cannot be trusted.

How to break the habit of micromanagement

If you see any of the symptoms we mentioned above apply to your behavior, don’t worry – it is possible to change your management style. We’ve prepared some tips to help you lead with trust and confidence in your team at the forefront of your practice:

Learn to trust

The people on your team are smart enough to do their job well. Build trust in the workplace, acting like a role model - in other words, being the first to trust. As we know, the best leaders lead by example.

Stop being a perfectionist

Perfection is a myth. Striving for high quality it is a good thing, but trying to reach perfection in everything is rather a compulsive disorder. Let it go! Mistakes can be corrected, so there is no need to prevent them all the time – it’s exhausting and it simply doesn’t work.

Besides, failures can be great learning opportunities, or even turn out to be important steps on the way to progress.

Set clear expectations

Instead of pushing on your people, develop a set of standards you expect them to meet and clearly communicate and even over-communicate those standards. This way, people will know what they need to do, and you will have a reference for how to assess their work.

Promote creativity

It might be hard for you, but try to be open-minded and give your people more freedom to experiment. It will both let them express themselves, increasing job satisfaction, and teach you to let go of control.

Decentralize power

As a team leader, you can promote independent decision-making in two ways:

  • By letting people make decisions. Very often, front-line employees have knowledge and experience that a manager doesn’t have, and it makes a lot of sense to ask their opinion. You could go even further and give your people an opportunity to organize a self-managed team and see how that would work.
  • By delegating assignments. Again, you might be far less experienced or skilled to complete a certain task. Besides, by delegating, you show people you trust them and believe in their competence.  

Know when to step in

You might feel a strong urge to assist as soon as you see people need it. But hold your horses! Observe your team dealing with the challenge, watching and listening carefully, till people realize they need help. It might take time, but they will not feel as if the help was imposed on them.

The advice given after the problem appeared is more valuable: at this point, people have already analyzed the situation and see that the methods they are using do not work, so they’re more willing to accept an alternative opinion.

In other words, giving people autonomy and letting them make mistakes is sometimes more important than preventing the mistakes – this way, you encourage professional growth, at the same time being ready to help whenever it’s necessary.

Make it clear you’re here to help

Despite a long list of manager’s responsibilities, the role of a manager is typically associated with mainly two things – evaluating and then either rewarding or punishing.

This is why every time a micromanaging boss intervenes, people feel they’re getting monitored, which may trigger a negative reaction – most probably, they will act defensively and extremely cautiously, trying to weigh each word they’re about to say and each action they’re about to take.

Such pressure is very demotivating, and it stifles creativity and leads to poorer performance. For this reason, emphasize that you intend to advise, and not to assess.

Provide the right amount of assistance

At different stages of a project, people will need different amounts of support. At the beginning of a project, it might be a good idea to give more guidance to your direct reports, setting the work in motion by asking questions, helping develop a plan, and communicating insights.

Likewise, when a team is facing a serious challenge, it will need a more intense involvement of a manager.

However, this tactic is not the best when the workflow of a team is more or less stable. What will work in this case is dropping in intermittently– to help solve individual problems and remove emergent obstacles. This might involve discussing issues with employees, listening to their concerns, and helping them find a solution.


Micromanaging is a direct management failure - yet, it is something that can be fixed. While it might be hard to let go of deeply set patterns, you should try to do it – for the sake of your team’s well-being and your own health.

Change your mindset: learn to trust your team members, believe in their potential and talent, and give them more freedom. You will see how people will feel more and more accomplished - showing better results for everyone.

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