Years ago I was going to a meeting in place of my boss. As I was leaving for it he told me he trusted me to make good decisions and if I didn’t he would just fire me. My response was “promises, promises.” From this exchange it’s pretty obvious that John did not fully trust me to act in the best interests of the department, or in his best interests.
Needless to say when I think about the “bad” bosses I’ve had over the years John comes to mind right away. In reality he was a nice guy and he wanted me to succeed. Unfortunately he was so worried about us doing well that he didn’t let us make our own decisions and take our own risks. His concern showed up as micro-managing all of us. His behaviors lead the group to act like a herd of sheep. Most of the group was not willing to make a decision without checking in with him first. A few of us went against this grain and regularly had issues because of it.
I was not willing to abdicate my ability to think to the boss. If I was out supporting our customers, both internal and external, I made decisions about what needed to be done on the spot. There was no efficiency in checking in with the boss for every little thing that needed to be done. Our customers had no interest in waiting for someone else to approve my actions. My position was supporting production which means problem solving most of the time. I learned a few tricks in dealing with micro-managers like John.
- Touch base regularly. Even though I was not willing to handover all decision making to John I would stop by and let him know what I had done and shared the results of my actions.
- No surprises. Part of the driver behind micro-managers is a need for control so it was important to let John know what was happening, particularly anything that went wrong. He responded better when he heard of problems from me before he heard about it from someone else.
- Use as a sounding board. One great technique was to identify a problem, come up with a complete solution and then run it by John for his take on it. Using a micro-manager as a sounding board gives them some up front input to your solutions. With time the changes he made to my ideas dropped significantly.
- Own your issues. John was asking a co-worker and I what was delaying implementation of a project. Mike answered “that would be me”. John just asked why. When Mike explained the cause John said “get it done” and left. That type of delay would normally earn the person a dressing down in John’s office. By owning the issue there was nothing left for John to say.
- Provide solutions. Micro-managers love it when people bring them problems to solve. However, for your career success you need to be able to act independently. Bring solutions to problems when you meet with your boss. This will earn you respect from them and eventually they will relax their control.
In the long run I learned a lot from John, some of which was how not to treat my employees and some was the danger of sheltering people from the tough decisions that must be made. I had a good relationship with him and he did support me when I moved onto another factory. By holding my own and showing him that he could trust me to make good decisions I was given more freedom to act than most in my department. It was much harder to earn his trust, I had to force it. Learning how to succeed with a major micro-manager also showed me how people want to be treated and how to respond properly to them. When you run across a micro-manager tread carefully but stay true to yourself. Being aware of their issues will help you be heard and you can succeed in spite of their restraints.