Alex Davda: micromanager refuses to place trust in employee

Working for 'the ultimate micromanager' is anything but fun, it almost feels like you have a stalker, watching and following your every move.

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My boss is the ultimate micromanager. He asks me to do something and then checks up on me every few hours to ensure I am doing it just so. I feel there is an element of trust missing here, ie he simply does not trust me to get the job done to his specifications. How can I politely ask him to back off and let me get on with my work? LK, Abu Dhabi

Working for “the ultimate micromanager” is anything but fun, it almost feels like you have a stalker, watching and following your every move. Micromanaging is detrimental and has been found to dent team morale by establishing a tone of mistrust. It also limits a team’s capacity to grow.

Having someone check up on you on a daily basis is no doubt frustrating and requires some action, but often this behaviour may not necessarily come from just a lack of trust in you, but also through a lack of confidence in themselves. which is detrimental to their own effectiveness. It hampers their ability to focus on what is really important and while their mind is filled with the minute details of every work task, they often lose track of seeing the bigger picture. Therefore, when seeking to appropriately change this behaviour, the benefits are felt on both sides.

Think about whether there is any reason for your manager not to trust you. Have there been projects which have not been delivered by you or by others? Is he under a lot of pressure from higher management? Is this style of management the norm in your organisation?

You also need to evaluate this behaviour through understanding his natural person­ality. Does he generally have high standards and a real attention for detail or is he a dominant character fighting to maintain power and influence? Or as mentioned before – could it be from a lack of confidence in his own ability that this type of behaviour occurs? Once you know the underlying reasons for this behaviour you are in a much better position to try to deal with it.

If you look at most commentators on overcoming micromanagement they will also suggest not fighting this behaviour head on (through directly challenging the behaviour) or even passively (not responding to requests and withdrawing). The reason for this is that at the heart of good management there must be trust.

In your situation it may be that your manager holds the view that “no one can do anything to my standards”, which means he keeps a tight leash on you and possibly other colleagues. Earn his trust by going the extra mile and delivering projects in a style that will appeal to him. Think about a relationship with a partner where one side is constantly checking up on the other; the easy thing to do is to push back against demands on your freedom, but if that relationship is worth holding on to, it is much more effective to restore trust through showing that person they have nothing to worry about. Build the trust up and you may find he naturally lets you get on with it.

If you try to understand someone’s behaviour and actively build trust, then ultimately the relationship should become stronger. This may naturally allow for the micromanagement to decrease, but if it doesn’t then at least you are in a better position to have an open and honest conversation with your boss about his behaviour and the impact on you. You are not pushing back, but instead trying to pull your manager along into a more sophisticated developmental style of leadership. In this feedback, I suggest politely explaining the behaviour and its effect on you, but also explore how sweating the small stuff restricts the time an individual can spend on the real big picture business objectives. You may even suggest a formal weekly update of your work that surpasses all the daily check-ins. Compromise is key here – show him you will meet him in the middle.

Doctor’s prescription:

Micromanagement can feel like you are being followed. Almost like one party does not trust the intentions or behaviour of another. Understanding the situation and the other person is a good way to start. However, reacting or challenging is not. Try to build trust rather than damage it further. Team members who consistently deliver are inevitably given more breathing space and left to get on with it.

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues.

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