Micromanagement can be defined as a management style that involves closely monitoring and/or controlling how employees do their jobs.

It's a poor management technique that wastes time, fails to utilize our staff’s full potential, and causes resentment and frustration in those being controlled.

micromanagement highway

… the highway!

It is one of the 4 things that drive employees crazy, according to Dan Rockwell.

Micromanagement is Not Inherent

One afternoon I was having an informal conversation with one of my colleagues, Dennis (a pseudonym for this story). He was lamenting the fact that our CEO was such a micromanager. According to him, the CEO displayed a need to be involved in every decision. He never seemed to trust Dennis to pursue his job independently. And the CEO seemed compelled to instruct Dennis how to do his job.

I listened quietly to Dennis' complaints. But I was thinking that the CEO did not come across as a micromanager to me.

micromanagement yessir

Weekly Operations Meeting

A few days later, on a Wednesday morning, ten of us were attending our weekly planning meeting with the CEO. I was sitting at my usual spot at the south end of the boardroom table. The VP for Senior Services was seated to my right. The CEO was next to her, leading the meeting.

The CEO was expressing his frustration that there were several projects that seemed to be “stuck.” And he didn't understand why.

During the discussion, he also mentioned that one of the hospital board members had called him. The board member asked why we had stopped sending one of our medical specialists to an outlying clinic near her home.

The CEO was unable to answer the question for the board member. He was not aware that this staffing change had been made. And he was angry that he had not been notified so that he could reasonably respond to a question like this. He felt he appeared uninformed to the board member.

I thought about those comments later, and about my colleague's complaint about being micromanaged. The CEO had not called Dennis out during the discussion. But Dennis was the involved VP in some of the struggling projects and the staffing change at the clinic.

It became clear to me that the need to micromanage may not be inherent in a leader, but a result of our own behaviors and attitudes.

Causes of Micromanagement

Granted, some micromanagement comes from the insecurity of the micromanager. It is often driven by fear: of making a mistake, or of failing to complete an important project. The micromanager then responds by trying to escalate his control.

Some micromanagement is a result of inexperience, and tends to be temporary. Managers are promoted by being successful at what they do. They may have achieved success by being meticulous about what they do and how they do it.

Then they think they should teach former peers to do things their way so they can also be successful.

Shift in Mindset

What these new leaders must learn is that there is a new set of skills that need to be applied. These skills involve granting more responsibility to team members, and allowing them to fail and learn. And they must learn to trust their teams to accomplish goals in their own ways.

Later, experienced leaders may revert to micromanagement to obtain better performance from a direct report who under-delivers.

In my world as senior VP, I observed that micromanagement often resulted when a direct report lost the trust of her boss by:

  • Under-communicating;
  • Underperforming (under-delivering); and,
  • Making excuses.

So, that leads me to my list of tactics that can reduce or eliminate micromanagement.

Stop Your Boss' Micromanagement

If you feel that you're being micromanaged, try to determine whether you have contributed to the situation. And, by following these simple steps, prevent it from continuing.

1. Be consistently and totally accountable.

I describe the four step process for demonstrating accountability in Preparing to Be a Better Physician Leader.

micromanagement and accountability

Being totally accountable means understanding and demonstrating that you hold yourself responsible for the things that you control, and the much larger domain of things that you can influence.

In a recent post on Medium, author Nick Caldwell writes about the day he learned what separates managers from leaders. In the article he does a good job of describing the “aha moment” when he recognized the difference between identifying problems (as a manager) and taking on responsibility for solving problems (as a leader).

2. Keep your boss informed.

This doesn't mean to ask permission for every move you make. But when a significant change is being made, especially those that might leave a stakeholder (board member, physician, patient or employee) unhappy, let your boss know what's going on. That way, she will be prepared for questions or blow-back from the decision.

3. Build deeper trust.

This is a different kind of trust than the trust developed within a team.

I’m talking about the trust of a boss in a team member to follow-through. The deeper the trust, the less need to micromanage. This gets back to being 100% accountable. And it only occurs with persistently demonstrating that you can deliver results without being micromanaged.

4. Write things down.

One of the reasons our bosses micromanage us is because we forget to follow-up on some things.

We forget about specific problems we promised to address. Or we remember to address the problem, but forget that we promised it would be done by noon today.

By being compulsive about following up on our promises, the need to micromanage will dissipate. This compulsiveness will come from taking notes, writing down deadlines, and putting things in writing so our boss can review them later.

5. Be honest and timely in communication.

When things go bad, be the first to let your boss know. Ignoring failures or trying to cover up missteps will only increase the boss' need to micromanage.

Then circle back to Step 1., apply the four-step accountability process, and get back on track.

One Tool I Use to Eliminate Micromanagement

I was being a little dishonest when I made it sound like I never experienced micromanagement by my CEO. As I described in Four New Skills Physician Executives Must Learn, there were many lessons I needed to learn as a new hospital executive.

Some of those lessons involved meeting my CEO's needs, and communicating completely and proactively.

So, I developed a process and tool that enabled me to combine written and verbal communication with being accountable. Using this tool, I virtually eliminated micromanagement by my CEO.

We met once every week or two. So, I created a checklist that served as an agenda for our meetings. On it, I included every topic that I knew or suspected my CEO would be interested in.

micromanagement checklist agenda

I maintained a working copy of the list of issues in a shared electronic folder that I created. It was in a location on our shared drive that anyone on the senior team could access. I named the folder “CEO Meeting Agendas.” And, I updated the list as things changed, in real-time as much as possible.

On the afternoon before our next one-on-one, I updated the list and reordered and highlighted the topics according to what I thought was important. Then, I saved the file using the date of the meeting in the file name.

I would generally email the file, or a link to the file, to the CEO asking if he wanted to discuss anything else during our one-on-one.

Posting this series of documents enabled the CEO to quickly review the list of ongoing goals and activities at will. The folder contained all of the previous lists, so he could look back and follow the progress on any job or goal.

The Tool in Action

An image of a sample list is shown below. This example reflects the kind of topics that I generally included. They originated in specific departmental duties, from my management goals, or from other challenges that I was addressing, such as personnel (HR) issues.


micromanagement prevention tool


Some things to note about the tool:

  • The list for a busy VP can get very long, so not everything can be addressed during the one-on-one;
  • The level of detail can be adjusted to the desire and needs of your boss;
  • Important (urgent or contentious) items should be highlighted – I am using an asterisk on this list; and,
  • The highlighted items will be discussed first, then the remaining items as time allows.

In this example, I know that the CEO is likely to be concerned with:

  • Acquisition of Dr. XXXXX's practice, one of the oldest and largest practices in the county (3.);
  • Unusual demands by Dr. C. S. during his contract review with potentially significant cost ramifications (4.i.);
  • Completing the revision of the compensation plan for the medical group (5.b.);
  • Providing a review of the quality reports for the CEO prior to my presentation at the next board meeting (6.);
  • The resignation of one of our top directors (14.); and,
  • The progress on the opening of a new urgent care clinic (15).

As you can see, using this virtual agenda and keeping it up to date will enable you to demonstrate ongoing accountability, maintain a written record, and avoid under-communicating important information.

Next Steps

Try creating a written agenda for every one-on-one meeting with your boss. Post each one where it can be reviewed easily, yet securely. After using it for a while, ask if the tool needs to be tweaked in some way.

Let me know if it reduces micromanagment. Happily, it should also reduce phone calls and emails for updates between meetings.

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