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

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

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.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Patterns of ConversationPatterns of Everyday Conversation
Many conversations follow identifiable patterns. Recognizing those patterns, and preparing yourself to deal with them, can keep you out of trouble and make you more effective and influential.
The Fram, Amundsen's shipBreaking the Rules
Many outstanding advances are due to those who broke rules to get things done. And some of those who break rules get fired or disciplined. When is rule breaking a useful tactic?
The ruins of the Temple of Apollo at DelphiOn Advice and Responsibility
Being asked for advice can be an affirming experience, but actually giving advice can sometimes entail risk. How can this happen, and what choices do we have?
Three Card Monte, Jaffa, IsraelSome Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: II
Skip-level interviews are dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor. They can be both heplful and hazardous. Here's Part II of a little catalog of the hazards.
Desperation at workReframing Revision Resentment: I
From time to time, we're required to revise something previously produced — some copy, remarks, an announcement, code, the Mona Lisa, whatever… When we do, some of us experience frustration, and view the assignment as an onerous chore. Here are some alternative perspectives that might ease the burden.

See also Workplace Politics and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A beach at sunsetComing August 4: What Are the Chances: I
When estimating the probabilities of success of different strategies, we must often estimate the probability of multiple events occurring. People make a common mistake when forming such estimates. They assume that events are independent when they are not. Available here and by RSS on August 4.
Main Reading Room of the U.S. Library of CongressAnd on August 11: Many "Stupid" Questions Aren't
Occasionally someone asks a question that causes us to think, "Now that's a stupid question." Rarely is that assessment correct. Knowing what alternative assessments are possible can help us respond more effectively in the moment. Available here and by RSS on August 11.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

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.

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!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.