Micromanagement: The ninth circle of hell

If you’ve ever been exposed to a micromanager, you probably understand why I am assigning micromanagement to the ninth circle of hell.

Inferno (Italian for “Hell”) is the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem, The Divine Comedy. It tells of Dante’s journey through Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil. In the poem, Hell is depicted as nine circles of suffering located within the Earth.Dante describes an imaginary tour of Hell, describing the various categories of sinners and the way Hell has been organized into nine circles to deliver appropriate punishment to each type of sinner in various sections.

The Micromanager

Dante describes the ninth circle as the one reserved for the very worst sinners in this world. In credit union land, I believe this is the micromanager.

The micromanager is a boss who has to make every decision and take the lead role in the performance of everything, frequently including each and every small step his or her employees take. If you have been there, you know what it feels like – they hover over you, they rarely consider your opinions or ideas, they take the credit when things go right and throw you under the bus when things go awry.

The symptoms of micromanagement

  • Cannot effectively delegate.
  • Delegates the mundane, easy to accomplish tasks that they personally don’t want to do.
  • Delegates no real decision-making authority.
  • Holds team accountable for results, but does not allow them to figure things out or learn as they go.
  • Withholds opportunities for growth and development, which frequently comes from trying, failing and trying again.

If you are a micromanager, cut it out! It’s bad for business!           

2003 survey by office products manufacturers Franklin Covey found that employees singled out micromanagement as the most significant barrier to productivity they faced. These findings were 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.

If you are going through Hell, here are a few things to try:

  • Perform well to remove any perception that he or she needs to micromanage you on a consistent basis. Be thorough in each of the commitments you are assigned and do what you say you are going to do.
  • Seek specific feedback on how you are performing. You’re not looking for a confrontation here, just a positive point that communicates your desire to continuously improve. Based on your consistently good performance and desire for continuous learning, it’s okay to let him or her know that you will do what you have been asked to do without constant supervision.
  • Be the first to communicate how things are going, making sure that your boss feels informed and up-to-date. Provide timely, detailed reports and communicate the team’s next steps. Reassure your micromanager that things are progressing well. Taking the offense in communication may reduce the micromanager’s perceived need for hovering and initiating a daily barrage of questions that pull you and your team off task.
  • Make sure you and your team understand how your assignment fits into the bigger picture, the credit union’s mission, vision and values. This will help with the decision-making process, and it will also communicate “upward” that you understand how what you are doing fits into the bigger picture.
  • Finally, talk to your boss before it reaches a breaking point. In my experience, many micromanagers honestly don’t realize that they micromanage. Be respectful. Stress your commitment to doing a great job, and that with more responsibility you could do a better job and still meet the overall objectives. Stress your desire to learn and grow and how it might be limited with so little delegated responsibility. Finally, make sure you ask if there is anything you can do to improve the communication process.

Management isn’t easy. Managers must successfully decide where and how to allocate key resources and assets. It’s the consistent and successful alignment of resources that creates sustainability, growth, trust, and human development. Too little management and progress slows down or dies.

Where there is micromanagement, there is usually discouragement, lost opportunity, and, most importantly, a lack of trust. Opportunities are lost in wasted time by the manager who should be focused on more important things. Development and growth is lost when people are denied the opportunity to fail the first time. Trust is lost when a micromanager fails to allow people to manage their own areas.

If you feel like you are trapped in the ninth circle of Hell, I hope you find these suggestions useful and, like in Dante’s story, exclaim, “From there we came outside and saw the stars.