Career Q&A: My boss is a micromanager!

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I have been working for my current nonprofit organization for about one year. Things were okay during the first few months but I find lately that my boss is constantly on my back and micromanaging me. She is driving me crazy and I feel it really disrupts my workday. How do I get her to back off and let me get on with it?

We feel your pain. Micromanaging is frustrating and not a good use of anyone's time. Having been managers ourselves who have occasionally micromanaged (and would have much preferred not to), we offer the following insights for you to consider, which might be helpful in understanding what might be going on in your boss's world and how to remedy the situation:

1. No one actually wants to micromanage. With very few exceptions, people don't actually want to micromanage. Micromanaging is usually about unmet needs. Your job is to figure out what needs are not being met and proactively address the situation in a way that works for both of you. Ask yourself the following questions: What are the tasks you feel your boss is micromanaging you on and how does that match with feedback you have had on your performance on those types of tasks? Are the concerns legitimate ones based on past performance? Many of the times we have micromanaged, it has been because of prior performance issues on particular tasks that had a consequence for the organization (e.g. mistakes in budgeting for a project or lack of attention to detail in the execution of a project). If the concerns are legitimate, speak to your boss about what support you need to excel at the task and what kind of reassurance she needs to know the tasks are well in hand.

2. Your boss likely also has a boss too. Keep the big picture in mind. Your boss also reports to someone and is held accountable for the quality of work done by her and the staff she supervises. Consider what other stressors in the environment could be causing this sudden vigilance by your boss. Is there a need for more updates and information more often? This could be a temporary micromanaging situation as and when the organization is experiencing a particular challenge or stress. Be astute and get in tune with the environment outside of your own work responsibilities. Proactively anticipate what your boss' needs are and address them - when you look good, she looks good. Showing that you get and are concerned with the big picture of the organization will be much appreciated by your boss and likely also the leadership of your organization. This will work in your favour when it comes time to negotiate for promotions or more benefits.

3. Clear, respectful, nonviolent communication is key. Regardless of whether the unmet need of your boss is related to your performance or factors in the big picture, the key to successfully addressing this issue is clear, respectful, nonviolent communication. Ask your boss for a private talk. Share your observations on her changes in behaviour, the impact it is having on your work and your theories on what may be the cause. Be curious - not defensive - and really try to understand from her point of view what is not working for her. Propose a solution that will meet both of your needs and check in on it regularly to see if it is working or needs to be adjusted. Reaffirm that you both share the same bottom line: ensuring that the work gets done in such a way that brings success to the organization.

Good luck!

Nancy Ingram and Christa McMillin are co-founders and partners at Foot in the Door Consulting which specializes in helping nonprofit professionals build sustainable, satisfying and values-driven careers. Together, they have over 30 years of experience on both sides of the hiring and management process in the nonprofit sector. They can be reached through www.footinthedoorconsulting.com.

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