Signs you may actually be a micromanager

Leader or micromanager?

Leadership can be defined as the art of motivating a group of people to act toward achieving a common goal. But when does leading take on the ugly face of micromanagement?

Many business owners and leaders don’t realize that they are micromanagers. When we become business owners, we typically add new staff out of necessity. Everything else we’ll learn as we go…right?

What is micromanaging?

An extreme micromanager is the business owner or manager who excessively supervises the employees; even the smallest details have to be reviewed. Micromanagement to varying degrees is more common than you might think.

How are micromanagement styles created?

1)    Lack of trust: Lack of trust is one of the greatest factors in micromanagement. The leaders believe that no one can do the particular task as well as them.

2)    Fear of failure: Fear of failure can feed these behaviors. Staff might not realize how much is at stake.

3)    Being involved in every problem: Some believe that good leadership means “When my staff have a problem, they come to me to fix it.”

4)    Unclear expectations: Leadership development is not deliberate with clear expectations and measurable results.

Before you realize it, your staff becomes dependent on you to keep the business running. Regardless of the situation, as the business grows, at some point a leader’s bandwidth cannot attend to a vast number of tasks.

A company’s staff is one of your more valuable assets; sometimes we overlook the impact on morale by not giving individuals the autonomy to perform routine work. 

How to stop micromanaging your team

You need to take a leap of faith in your team. Recognize your fears. Share your desire to build an environment where you trust their ability make more decisions without your involvement every step of the way. Together, identify clear expectations between each of you.

As a Vistage Chief Executive Chair, I lead a group of high performing CEOs and business owners that create organizational cultures that challenge and entrust employees to exponentially grow their companies beyond any single person’s capabilities.

What have other CEOs done to stop micromanaging to create high performing teams? Start by looking in the mirror. Ask yourself these questions:

  • “What can I do to demonstrate my trust in team members?”
  • “How effectively am I hiring and retaining employees that align with the culture I am trying to create?”
  • What behaviors am I displaying or enabling that are preventing my team from rising to their fullest potential?”

Try the 100 List Exercise

Below is an exercise my Vistage CEOs found helpful to intentionally identify and reduce micromanaging habits.

Objective: Build clarity so team members can make more effective decisions by reducing dependency on the leader.

  • At your next staff meeting, ask your direct reports to create a list of at least 100 items that currently need your approval. Sit silently.
  • What is this list telling you about your micromanagement habits? Yes, you probably need to be included in the $100,000 purchasing decision. But do they really need to ask what flavor coffee to buy for the break room?
  • Now, let your team know you need their help. As their leader, it’s time for a paradigm shift. You hired them for their expertise and experiences. You want to empower them to make better decisions without always seeking your approval.
  • You rate each line item:

A = Only I can make the decision

B = You can make the decision after discussing it with me

C = You make the decision on your own

Challenge yourself over time to delegate more decisions to your staff.

  • Be honest and vulnerable. Ask your staff, “how else am I getting in the way of your success?” and “How can you help me recognize when I am micromanaging?”

Keep this open dialogue as an agenda item with your staff. When challenges arise, fight the urge to solve the problem. Instead, encourage the team to collaborate and find ways without your micro-involvement. Imagine how your workday will change when you can spend more time working “on the business” and less time caught micromanaging “in the business.”


by: Liza LeClaire, Vistage International

Photo credit: ID9928936 © Tamás Ambrits  |