Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 10;   March 7, 2007: How to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager

How to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager

by

By now, we've all heard of micromanagers, and some have experienced micromanagement firsthand. Some of us have even micromanaged others. But there's a breed of micromanagers whose behavior is so outlandish that they need a category of their own.
Captain William Bligh

William Bligh, Captain of HMS Bounty, which experienced a mutiny on April 28, 1789. Illustration from A Voyage to the South Sea, his book on the subject. Courtesy Project Gutenberg, the oldest producer of
free ebooks on the Internet.

If you think you might be working for a micromanager, but you aren't sure, count yourself lucky, because when your boss is a micromanager, there's absolutely no doubt. Um, wait, there is some doubt — your boss might be a nanomanager. Nanomanagers are about a thousand times worse. They do most of what micromanagers do, but they do it more often, and way better. Here's a little catalog of what it takes to be a nanomanager.

  • Has open door policy, but the door in question is yours.
  • For any task, specifies precisely how and by-when.
  • When you can't do the how or you miss the by-when for a task, determines the how and the by-when of determining the new how and the new by-when.
  • Does the things you're supposed to do, but still insists that you do them too.
  • Is too busy doing your job to pay any attention to own job.
  • Can't tolerate incompetent subordinates.
  • Can't tolerate competent subordinates.
  • Demands the impossible.
  • Is clueless about difference between what's possible and what's not.
  • Doesn't understand — and therefore rejects — all explanations of why the impossible is impossible.
  • Blames subordinates for all failures.
  • Claims responsibility for all successes.
  • Sees no need to recognize contributions of subordinates, since there aren't any.
  • Makes Captain Queeg and Captain Bligh look like management geniuses.
  • Has fingers in everything, but has no idea where anything stands.
  • Demands next status report before previous status report is completed.
  • Claims all assignments are clear and unambiguous.
  • Won't supply clear answers to questions about ambiguous assignments.
  • Corrects the way you ask clarifying questions about ambiguous assignments.
  • Has said, "I don't like surprises," but gets obvious thrills from surprising subordinates.
  • Nanomanagers are like
    micromanagers, but about
    1000 times worse
    Is isolated from peers, with possible exception of other nanomanagers.
  • Changes directions frequently, but doesn't necessarily inform subordinates.
  • When contradicted by Reality, or by own boss, claims never to have said or believed what was contradicted.
  • Can't always resist the urge to tell subordinates how to use the phone system.
  • Doesn't actually know how to use the phone system.
  • Sits in on meetings chaired by subordinates, saying, "Pretend I'm not here," then hijacks the meeting.
  • Insists on signing off on all decisions of subordinates, and regularly rejects some.
  • Countermands decisions of subordinates, then makes same decisions a few days later.
  • Can't always coherently explain what was wrong with rejected decisions.
  • Never takes vacation.
  • Does get sick from time to time, but comes to work anyway, saying, "I'm needed."
  • Takes sick days only for major surgery, and then only while still anesthetized.
  • Periodically tries to build rapport with subordinates, by stopping by for friendly, relaxed chats, but only when hard deadline is imminent.
  • Strenuously denies micromanaging anyone, ever.

There's more, but do I have to spell it out for you? (Just kidding.) Go to top Top  Next issue: Trying to Do It Right the First Time Isn't Always Best  Next Issue

For a survey of tactics for managing pressure, take a look at the series that begins with "Managing Pressure: Communications and Expectations," Point Lookout for December 13, 2006.

For more about micromanagement, see "When Your Boss Is a Micromanager," Point Lookout for December 5, 2001; "There Are No Micromanagers," Point Lookout for January 7, 2004; "Are You Micromanaging Yourself?," Point Lookout for November 24, 2004; "Reverse Micromanagement," Point Lookout for July 18, 2007; and "Lateral Micromanagement," Point Lookout for September 10, 2008.

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