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 worseIs 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.
Is 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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
- And on July 10: Barriers to Accepting Truth: I
- In workplace debates, a widely used strategy involves informing the group of facts or truths of which some participants seem to be unaware. Often, this strategy is ineffective for reasons unrelated to the credibility of the person offering the information. Why does this happen? Available here and by RSS on July 10.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.