Managing Up: When your Boss is an Obsessive Micromanager

Please read the mini-case study: Managing Up Case Study Part I and write me a one page answer to the question: If you were Katie, what would you do to try to “Manage Up” so that you felt better about your work and the role that you play.Be specific with the steps you would take.  If you decide to have a conversation with your boss, tell me specifically what you might say.

Managing Up: When your Boss is an Obsessive Micromanager

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Katie worked at an events planning company, helping her boss, Molly, design and execute some of the city’s biggest and most important parties, weddings, and fundraisers. She was good at her job—creative and organized—and she’d been promoted from intern to assistant to full-on planner in less than six months. When it came to crises, she’d proven she could handle most anything.

Which is why Katie was constantly baffled by her boss’s insistence on hovering over her every move. Molly wanted the minutes of every single client meeting, every single phone call. Molly wanted to know not only the solutions Katie came up with to problems, but the thought processes that led to those solutions. Everything took twice as long.” Like many hyper-controlling managers, Molly was working all the time—and expected Katie to do the same. When Molly texted Katie at midnight, she wanted to know why Katie didn’t text her back for seven hours. And when Katie told her boss it was because she was sleeping, Molly seemed suspicious, and annoyed!”

The next morning, Katie arrived to work to find a lengthy to-do list from her boss detailing what Katie was meant to do that day—as well as how to do it, who to call, and at what points along the way she would be required to check in. This list was 3 or 4 pages long. It must have taken Molly at least an hour to create. But the worst was the excessive detail about how to get it all done. Molly simply refused to let Katie do her job on her terms.

Katie felt suffocated and under immense pressure all the time, and began to dread coming to work. But she didn’t want to ruffle feathers, and she didn’t want to quit. She eventually decided to confront her boss—carefully and respectfully. As far as she knew, Katie had always exceeded expectations at her job and she had recently been given a raise.


Micromanaging can show up in many forms, but most typically in bosses who dictate how employees complete tasks, question employees’ judgments, frequently ask for updates, and check in incessantly. While the line between effective involved leadership and micromanaging can be thin—detail-oriented or obsessive? Constructive or controlling?—many employees have felt the effects of a manager whose management style is more overbearing than hands-on and collaborative. In his book My Way or the Highway: The Micromanagement Survival Guide, author Harry Chambers reports that 79 percent of those surveyed said they’d been micromanaged at one time or another. A 2003 survey by office products manufacturers FranklinCovey, meanwhile, found that employees singled out micromanagement as the most significant barrier to productivity they faced, confirmed by a 2011 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that showed people who believe they are being watched perform at a lower level.

So why do it? Many helicopter bosses feel the need to hover in order to monitor efficiency, or to keep things on track, especially if an employee has erred in the past. But most micromanagers do so out of a need for control that often has more to do with them than the performance of their employees—perhaps their own feeling of job insecurity or fear of failure. Others simply don’t know any better: Maybe they were promoted into a manager role without proper training, or maybe that’s how they were managed. EXERCISE – WHAT STEPS SHOULD YOU TAKE IF YOU FEEL MICROMANAGED?


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