Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 37;   September 10, 2008: Lateral Micromanagement

Lateral Micromanagement

by

Lateral micromanagement is the unwelcome intrusion by one co-worker into the responsibilities of another. Far more than run-of-the-mill bossiness, it's often a concerted attempt to gain organizational power and rank, and it is toxic to teams.
Damage to Purple Loosestrife due to feeding by the galerucella beetle

Damage to Purple Loosestrife due to feeding by the galerucella beetle. Both are invasive species in North America. In their native habitat, the beetle controls the loosestrife, but in North America, where the plant is uncontrolled by native species, the beetle has been imported to prevent the plant from dominating wetlands. The pictured plant is at Fresh Pond Reservation, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Invasive species are in many ways the natural analog of the lateral micromanager. They move into an environment that isnøt their own, and quickly dominate unless some element of the invaded domain responds with an effective defense, or unless a new element that can provide an effective defense enters that domain. In work groups and teams, it is the responsibility of management to notice lateral micromanagement (which is, after all, a performance issue) and intervene — that is, to play the role of the galerucella beetle, or to recruit someone who can serve that function. Failing that, someone, or several someones, must step forward to effectively inhibit the behavior of the lateral micromanager. Unless some action is taken to limit the behavior of the invasive species (the lateral micromanager), nothing can prevent it from choking the ecosystem (the team). Photo by E. Wylde, courtesy Cambridge Water Department.

Lateral micromanagement happens most often in everyday interactions or in collaborations between peers, when one co-worker tries to direct others, or exerts undue authoritative influence over them. It's much more than "bossiness" — it usually relates to the career ambitions of the lateral micromanager.

Because ambition is usually involved, lateral micromanagement is often coupled with attempts at image management. The lateral micromanager strives to make clear to higher authority that success of the joint effort is largely due to his or her own personal contributions and leadership, and inversely, failure is due to the poor performance of others.

As with most micromanagement, the nature of the directing behavior focuses not on results but on factors more immediately related to the lateral micromanager's ambitions and self-perception. Here are three of those factors.

How the results are achieved
Lateral micromanagers try to specify techniques, even when the work being done is outside their areas of responsibility. Excuses might include remote but plausible risks, or whether the method is consistent with established procedures, or personal ethical concerns. Often the true goal is to require the use of methods for which the lateral micromanager can claim credit.
The priority, pace, or price of achieving results
By asserting priorities or the need for tight deadlines or tight budgets, often beyond any constraints imposed externally, lateral micromanagers hope to limit choices. Sometimes the constraints rule out approaches competitive with those they advocate. Those constraints can also influence priorities in the micromanager's own favor.
Which resources are employed
Lateral micromanagers sometimes advocate the use of particular resources — human or otherwise — over which they have control or responsibility. This gives them leverage.

Since ambition is the focus, the group's results are not central to the lateral micromanager's goals, which are establishing and consolidating personal power, and creating or burnishing an image of power.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with lateral micromanagers.

Know what to look for
The younger, rapidly rising stars are sometimes skilled not at the work, but at the rising. Lateral micromanagers rise not so much on their achievements or leadership as on their ability to project an image of achievement and leadership.
Maneuver them into personal responsibility
Have them commit publicly to deliver results personally. For example, you could propose, "I'll cover X if you'll cover Y." If you can keep them occupied delivering on personal commitments, they have less time for lateral micromanagement. Be clever; they will resist.
The lateral micromanager's goals
are establishing and consolidating
personal power, and creating
or burnishing an image of power
Beware isolation
Once a lateral micromanager discovers that you understand the strategy, you might be targeted for isolation. Prepare in advance: alert your allies to your intentions, and let them know that the lateral micromanager might try to come between you. Ask for their help.

When you tangle with a lateral micromanager, prepare to have your own image management skills tested, or prepare to learn from a master. Go to top Top  Next issue: The Advantages of Political Attack: II  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 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; "How to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager," Point Lookout for March 7, 2007; and "Reverse Micromanagement," Point Lookout for July 18, 2007.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenfkOwlStxoaScesSCner@ChacvtHfWSOKwjGOWXDboCanyon.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:

Benjamin FranklinPractice Positive Politics
Politics is a dirty word at work, as elsewhere. We think of it as purely destructive, often distorting decisions and leading the organization in wrong directions. And sometimes, it does. Politics can be constructive, though, and you can help to make it so.
Humans aren't the only species that communicates by facial expressionsDismissive Gestures: II
In the modern organization, since direct verbal insults are considered "over the line," we've developed a variety of alternatives, including a class I call "dismissive gestures." They hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part II of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.
Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill on the portico of the Soviet Embassy at the Teheran ConferenceHostile Collaborations
Sometimes collaboration with people we hold in low regard can be valuable. If we enter a hostile collaboration without first accepting both the hostility and the value, we might sabotage it outside our awareness, and that can render the effort worthless — or worse. What are the dynamics of hostile collaborations, and how can we do them well?
John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), seventh Vice President of the United StatesImpasses in Group Decision-Making: I
Groups sometimes find that although they cannot agree on the issue at hand in its entirety, they can agree on some parts of it. Yet, they remain stuck, unable to reach a narrow agreement before moving on to the more thorny areas. Why does this happen?
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.

See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879, famed abolitionist and ex-slaveComing June 20: Managing Dissent Risk
In group decision making, dissent risk is the risk that dissents about important decisions will be rejected without due consideration. As a result, group decision quality can suffer, and some groups will actually eject dissenters. How can we manage dissent risk? Available here and by RSS on June 20.
Puppies waiting intently for a shot at the treatAnd on June 27: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely? Available here and by RSS on June 27.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenfxOcGfQjDAokFqmYner@ChacMVomqIOMizyajhdWoCanyon.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 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post 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.