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Foundations: Micromangement myths
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 06/25/2007

Foundations - Micromangement myths
by Joe Bouchard

The term “micro-manager” is common. But, is it really fully understood? The concept is not as simple as it appears. In fact, there are seven misconceptions about micro-management.

Myth One: Everyone has the same definition of micro-management.

All of the following are often mistaken for micro-management: coaching, mentoring, providing feedback, thoroughness, and follow-up. Here is a working definition I use - Micro-management is the act of unnecessarily controlling minute details and procedures. It is when staff place too much significance on what is rather insignificant (1)

Myth Two: There is never a circumstance when a micro-manager is useful.

From time to time, the talents of detail-oriented staff can be practical. Some of these circumstances are during audits, for investigations, monitoring prisoner dynamics, trouble-shooting, editing a document, and for policy audits.

Myth Three: All micro-managers are cut from the same fabric.

Not all micro-managers are driven by the same engine. Here are some different modes of micro-management:
  • Driven by supervisor - If a supervisor is a micro-manager, the subordinate is typically expected to perform that way.
  • Culturally driven - Emphasis on small details is indoctrinated in each new manager through the worksite culture.
  • Inborn - Some staff members bring micro-managing skills with them to the job. Some are naturally content to adhere to strict attention to minute details.
  • Conditional - Staff may reserve a mode of reactive micro-management that is utilized as circumstances warrant.
Myth Four: Micro-management is not really that big of a deal.

Micro-management breeds resentment between colleagues, stunts communication, shifts the focus from achieving the department’s mission, and allows for manipulation and lapsed security. Staff division flourishes when we are ill-prepared to cope with micro-managers.

Myth Five: Only managers can be micro-managers.

You do not have to be in charge of people to feel compelled to manage microscopic details. People who are obsessed with minutiae are found in all professions, all classifications, throughout history, and all around the world.

Myth Six: All managers like to micro-manage.

Not everyone is comfortable focusing on small details. Micro-managing is not a preferred style for everyone, especially those who prefer large-scale thinking. Circumstances or the worksite culture may drive a leader to micro-manage. But that does not automatically mean the leader will enjoy the process.

Myth Seven: There is nothing that you can do to assert yourself around micro-managers.

With a clearer understanding of micro-management, all staff can work well with others. Here are some general tips:
  • Always be honest when assessing your coworkers. This can be done with anonymous 360 surveys, suggestion boxes, or when asked directly for opinion. Remember that honesty does not mean malice;
  • Tactfully ask colleagues to assess your ability to make decisions;
  • Point out that you are capable;
  • Demonstrate that you have conceived several options to solve a problem. Present them and let your coworkers choose the best option. Be prepared to accept that colleagues may not choose any of your options;
  • Consider if there is a cultural precedent. Is there a chain of micro-management? Can this culture be changed?
  • Are your peers treated in the same way as you? Find out if this is an isolated incident;
  • Look at yourself. Assess how others lead you. Does your lack of attention to details serve as a magnet for scrutiny?(2)
Most ideas have a positive side if we simply examine them a bit more. Micro-managing, though frustrating to many of us, does have its place on occasion. Think how differently your facility would operate without some occasional beneficial acts of warranted thoroughness.

Joe Bouchard is a librarian at Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility within the Michigan Department of Corrections. He is also a member of the Board of Experts for “The Corrections Professional” and an instructor of Corrections and Psychology for Gogebic Community College. He can be reached at (906) 353-7070 ext 1321. These are the opinions of Joe Bouchard, and not of the MIDOC or Corrections.com.

1 Bouchard, Joseph. "How Micromanaging affects operations in a facility." The Corrections Professional 11.7 (2005): 3.
2 Ibid.

Other articles by Joe Bouchard

Custody awareness and corrections vitality, 5/20/07

We are who they say we are, 4/29/07

Coping with tragedy - lessons for corrections, 4/23/07

Building Empires: The rise and fall of cliques, 3/27/07

A horse sense of teamwork, 2/14/07


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