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Julia Milner

EDHEC Business School

Professor of Leadership

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The HR professional’s guide to handling micromanagers

For HR professionals being micromanaged, knowing how to ‘manage upwards’ is key. 

HR professionals are often prone to ‘people pleasing’ behaviour – connecting with people is an important part of their role and everyone wants to feel accepted. Unfortunately, in the wrong environment, that can make them susceptible to being micromanaged.

Many of us have worked with leaders who perhaps believed they were being helpful but in reality, were trying to direct the project in the way they thought best. Or worse yet, a boss who flat out told us what to do and ordered us to do it pronto.

So how can you steer clear of a micromanager, or, if you can’t avoid them, at least help them to see the error of their ways without crushing their ego or damaging a professional relationship? Here are a few tips.

Spot the red flags early

The best way to avoid being micromanaged is to avoid working for an organisation that allows them or enables them. Job hunters can identify a micromanager during the interview process, or even before, via networking and interviewing current employees about the management style at the company.

Ask how company managers respond to mistakes by team members or how managers support their teams during high-stress periods.

This proactive approach saves everyone time and money because employees don’t accept jobs with a micromanager, and HR departments don’t onboard an employee who will leave sooner rather than later. After all, as the saying goes, “people don’t leave jobs; they leave their managers.”

Bad managers are the number one reason employees seek employment elsewhere. Still, if employees paid more attention to red flags during initial interviews with a future manager, they might back out of a job offer before the contract was signed and the hiring bonus paid.

Do your research

Smart job hunters look for good matches. During interviews, ask about the corporation’s management style. Is it top-down? Are managers encouraged to support team members, or does the CEO embolden them to criticise and bully others? You can even ask about the specific manager you will report to. What is their reputation in the company? Are they respected? Are they a team player?

If you don’t want to ask direct questions about a future boss, ask how company managers respond to mistakes by team members or how managers support their teams during high-stress periods. These types of questions should provide the information you need to determine if you’ll be working for a micromanager or a micromanaging organisation.

Set the tone during onboarding

It’s best to set the tone for the relationship you want to have with a new manager from day one.

Often, team leaders appreciate employees who explain their work style and what works best for them regarding interactions and management oversight. After all, managers are judged on their team’s performance, so if a team member works better in one environment than another, managers would be wise to take notes.

Leaders who mistake coaching for instruction are unaware of the trap they have fallen into.

Ideally, this exchange between a new hire and their direct manager occurs during onboarding interviews. These getting-to-know-each-other conversations don’t have to be formal. They can be as simple as a coffee break in a quiet corner.

Don’t feel awkward about initiating the conversation. Your success will be more certain if you clarify expectations and modes of communication from the start of your relationship with your boss. This way, you’ll avoid the possibility of falling into a dysfunctional relationship with your leader and pave the way for success for everyone.

Ask the right questions

If you realise after a few months on the job that you work for a micromanager, don’t panic. First, put yourself in your manager’s shoes. Being empathetic instead of instantly angry or stressed will help you to think calmly and analyse the situation.

Once you understand why your boss is micromanaging, you can strategise how to politely call them out for it and get back to meaningful work.

Here are some good questions to ask when faced with a micromanager:

  1. Does the boss give advice instead of providing support? Are they aware of this mistake?
  2. Is the boss open to new ideas, or do they feel pressured to have an answer for everything?
  3. Is the boss missing critical coaching skills?
  4. Does the boss clearly love being all-powerful? Is the environment genuinely toxic?

If the answer to the first question is yes, you can initiate a conversation to provoke change. This proactive approach works because, in most cases, leaders who mistake coaching for instruction are unaware of the trap they have fallen into.

In this situation, you can ask, “is it ok with you if I map out my own ideas first and then run them by you later?” or “I would appreciate it if, when I run my ideas by you, you ask me one question afterward. This way, I will learn what might still benefit from fine-tuning.”

Reflection and support networks

If the answer to questions two and three is yes, the manager may need time to reflect on their management style and explore different leadership and team support modes. They may also need to expand their leadership skill set.

Dealing with a micromanager is about clear communication. Whether or not the person realises they are doing it, what’s important is to set out your own boundaries.

Sometimes, it’s also essential to ensure that a manager’s team members have the right skills to reach the goals they set for them. In this case, it’s worth liaising with your L&D colleagues to pinpoint skill opportunities and open a discussion around training that could benefit them – if it’s framed as something that can be done as a team it’s less confrontational.

If the answer to the fourth question is yes, seek advice from your professional network. This is the trickiest situation when it comes to dealing with a micromanager. If you’re left alone to tackle the problem, you risk attack and abuse by your manager and the possibility of burnout.

A swift and clear response

Ultimately, dealing with a micromanager is about clear communication. Whether or not the person realises they are doing it, what’s important is to set out your own boundaries and ensure those are clear for everyone involved.

It’s wise to seek support with this and not try to tackle it alone. The sooner you deal with the situation, the more effective you’ll be in your role.

If you enjoyed this, read: Ten ways to manage a challenging boss.

Author Profile Picture
Julia Milner

Professor of Leadership

Read more from Julia Milner

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