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

Last updated: August 8, 2018

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

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

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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