ATD Blog

Ask a Trainer: How Can I Work With My Micromanager Boss?

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

In this week’s Ask a Trainer guest post, Mary Abbajay offers advice for understanding what makes a micromanager tick.

Dear Mary,

I started a new job at the beginning of the year. There are many aspects of the job that I like, but there’s one big thing that’s driving me crazy: My boss is a horrible micromanager! I’ve always preferred to work independently, but my boss is constantly asking for updates or giving me instructions about details that don’t really matter. It’s driving me crazy. Do you have any advice for how I can work with a micromanager?

Everybody hates a micromanager because nobody likes to be micromanaged. The thing to remember about the micromanager is that they probably have a higher need for information, inclusion, and control—in essence, a need for what we call certainty in the workplace. When their need for certainty brushes up against your need for autonomy, that's going to really feel icky.

When you work for a micromanager, don’t take it personally. It just might be their need for certainty. But if you’re the only person on the team who’s being micromanaged, then you should take that personally because that is about you. That means you’re not giving them something that they need. So, find out what they need, which is usually information, inclusion, and control. Be proactive. Flood them with information. Tell them what they want to know before they ask. Offer them regular, maybe even daily, maybe even bidaily status reports. Make sure you check in with them before you start a project to find out if they have any proclivities around that project and any special wants or needs. Find out what kind of font they like. Find out what the color scheme is on the document.

You’re going to hate doing it. I’m not going to lie—it’s not fun. It’s going to take a lot of extra effort, but it’s the only way to get your autonomy. You have to meet a higher hurdle of trust-building and certainly building with them before they give you your autonomy. It’s sort of like an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You have to give them their certainty before you get your autonomy.

It’s also important to keep in mind that micromanager bosses don’t necessarily have a lot of motivation to change their work style if the organization isn’t asking them to change it. In fact, the micromanager has probably been rewarded for who they are, and they aren’t going to change, so, we're better off learning how to work with these kinds of bosses.


Learn more from Mary Abbajay about managing up with any type of boss on the ATD Accidental Trainer podcast. Her episode will air on December 23.


If you have a question for Ask a Trainer, send it to [email protected]. You can find answers to previous questions by visiting the Ask a Trainer hub.

We welcome your comments and engagement on these posts. All posts are reviewed to ensure appropriateness based on ATD’s requirements for postings in our online communities.

Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Mary Abbajay, author of the best-selling Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss is the president of Careerstone Group, LLC, a full service organizational and leadership development consultancy that delivers leading-edge talent and organizational development solutions to business and government.

As a sought-after author, speaker, consultant, and trainer, Mary helps clients develop the strategies, skills and sensibilities needed for success in the 21st century. Her expertise lies in helping clients create dynamic and productive workplaces that foster professional and personal excellence and growth. In short, she is committed to creating workplaces where both the organization and the individual can flourish.

Mary Abbajay brings over 20 years of leadership experience, a master’s degree in Organizational Management, and post-graduate certificates from Georgetown University and the Coaches Training Institute. In addition to being an entrepreneur and consultant, Mary has served as adjunct faculty at George Mason University’s School of Management and has taught at both Montgomery College and the Georgetown University Center for Professional Development.

In 2010, Mary was named as one of Washington Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business and was a Smart CEO Brava Award recipient in 2017.

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You are correct it is very taxing mentally; dare I say physically to work with a micromanager boss. This article gives some great advice, but I found it to be biased towards the micromanager. Can you speak with a micromanager boss; call them out so-to-speak, ask them to meet you halfway? It seems unfair that as the worker, you are being given all of the work in supporting a micromanagers needs. Shouldn't a micromanager be made aware of their behavior and learn to make changes?
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Very interesting , maybe, maybe "Managing your Manager" McGraw Hill, can help and add some perspectives.
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