Types of managers: the micromanager

Wherever you end up working, you will always either have someone above you or be that person yourself. I’ve now being exposed to several types of managers and thought it was probably a good idea to summarise a few management typologies broadly recognised.

Different types of managers generate different types of synergies in the team, some very efficient, some less so. Not only the management team influences their teams, but they also influence office and business dynamics hence it’s beneficial to think about some of them, their pros and cons, and how can you work with or under them.

In this series, I will be publishing separately 4 management styles and their pros and cons. Let’s give them some names to help you getting into reading their personality a bit better.

Number One: Karen, the micromanager

I did my research to check whether other people when defining these management personas shared my experience, and the micromanager is the one all the articles I have checked begin with! A few personalities traits about Karen: Karen really likes to be in control of situations and finds it very hard to share any responsibilities in general with the people around her. She is probably very organised and enjoys planning, at least verbally (the execution will likely be someone else's responsibility). She may come across as confident but is probably trying to hide her lack of trust, or maybe even a lack of skills in specific areas.

PROS: Like every type of manager, Karen has some positive to her modus operandi. She is likely organised and every move she makes is carefully thought through. Her method will screen the team from anything that she thinks should not concern them, allowing the team to be laser focussed on the task ahead. She will show her involvement with every aspect of the team offering a sort of membrane between her, the people above her and her team. She will also be the voice of the team; one voice, hers. Karen’s leadership style can be very effective in case of a junior or underperforming team as long as she has domain knowledge and relevant expertise.

CONS: As the micromanager is always super involved in every aspect of her team’s dynamics, the team members will rarely feel empowered and have very little room to open up, probably leading to general frustration.

Karen is like a very nice flowerpot in the jungle - she keeps the plant inside very protected but also very confined. She will likely want to be consulted about any decision even if she won’t admit that. Given her protective nature (of the status quo), Karen will likely struggle to provide business insights to her team because she wants her team to be laser focused on the tasks ahead. She will likely be nervous or stressed because she is overstretching to control everything, this will be reflected in the mood of her team.

How to spot a Micromanager

Funnily enough, the first thing a micromanager will say to you is “I am not a micromanager”. I am not sure why, but this is actually a proven thing! Karen would probably want to be copied in on every email (especially when communicating outside of the team), and ask you for detailed action points from any meetings she could not attend. On some matters she will heavily rely on a specific team member to tell her about the team dynamics, especially if Karen’s team has other managers under her or are in different locations. You can easily spot a micromanager from their team behaviour, they will always need confirmation from her or won’t make a simple decision without first checking with her; if she can’t attend they will frequently bring out her name when there isn’t agreement.

How does a micromanager affect the office dynamics

Karen likes to establish her way of working on her team, you will see some discrepancies between Karen’s team and the other teams in the company. Her team may have more restrictions than others, or her team will operate slightly differently resulting in Karen distinguishing her team from the others. This can affect the way the teams communicate with each other. Any team that needs to communicate with Karen’s has to go through extra steps. No one can really be comfortable with someone constantly looking over their shoulder so Karen’s method may generate frustration and gossip, which is not very productive. On the positive side, Karen can also be the one picking up her entire team when something unexpected happens by exercising her methodologies.

How to work best with a micromanager

You may now ask: “How can I work with a micromanager?”. Well, first thing you will need to realise is that your career progression under this typology may be slightly harder. That is because you won’t be having a lot of chances to stand out or actually owning decisions. You may still get all the training you need and various opportunities, but you will never be completely free to operate. So there are a couple of things to distinguish here: you reporting to a micromanager versus you having a team reporting to you and you reporting to a micromanager. In the latter case, do try to work with Karen as much as possible but also give your team freedom where you can. Allow your team to make decisions, even if small, and help to feed these back to Karen, working them into the guidance that she’s given. If you can provide Karen’s instructions less verbosely to the team then this will help them to feel empowered, but be prepared to discuss this with Karen if the delivery diverges from the exact instructions and justify the direction taken. Do make sure that your differences with Karen do not affect your team and that you don’t question her methods even if you are running your team in a slightly different way. If, instead, you just report to Karen without a team under you, my only suggestion would be to try and be as laid back as possible. Karen questions herself when someone is laid back but still following the rules she established and does not challenge her leadership. Try to show her you can be very reliable and maybe, eventually, you will gain her “trust” and have more room to grow. In my experience that has never happened but I am not the laid back type of person. Do make sure that you assert yourself as the expert in your field and show that you can comfortably back up any opinion you have. Karen’s management style often hides insecurities and lack of knowledge in specific topics.

Lead Software engineer who loves data, rockets and anything that is not the norm