What do you do when your boss is giving you more attention than you would like on a particular issue? Put more bluntly; how do you deal constructively with micro-management?

This was the question I was asked by a senior executive last week, who is frustrated and fatigued by the behavior of her boss. He’s “fixated” on a particular issue, calling her daily, wanting to see detailed reports, asking to attend team meetings, and the like. Understandably, it’s having a poor impact and starting to affect her confidence. I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar; probably multiple times in your career, and maybe even several times this week!

The temptation when we experience something like this is to demonize our manager, resent their attention and pull away. This almost never ends well. The good news is that there are several things you can do to positively affect your situation.

Alter your perspective

Micro-management is a matter of perspective. You may feel like your boss’ actions are unjustified, controlling and untrusting, but your boss will likely have a very different story informing their actions; a story that you need to understand in order to solve the issue. In any case, since they have positional power, the more you resist the attention, the more attention you will get.

It’s easy to label your boss a micro-manager, but it’s overly simplistic and not very helpful. Rather than focus on your boss’ management style, ask yourself why they might be so preoccupied with this issue in particular; what’s at stake for them? What are the risks they may feel? Why might they be fearful or anxious? This approach will help you start from a place of empathy rather than judgment, which is the first step to changing the situation for the better.

Agree what great looks like

In soccer, we would never begin a game until the goals are locked in place and visible to everyone. Yet often we invest huge amounts of time and energy into an issue, with huge consequences for success or failure, without knowing exactly where the goal is.

We may be super motivated and have a massive work ethic, but our boss – the person who will ultimately judge our performance – has a whole bunch of expectations about what we’re going to deliver. Here’s the problem; about a third of their expectations will be articulated, a third will be unspoken, and the other third will be unconscious. This is not a game we can win.

Ask your boss; how would you know that this issue is solved? What would you see? What would great look like? What’s important to you as we work through the process of solving it?

Show you care more than they do

When you’re getting unwanted attention from above, it’s almost always because that person believes they care more about the issue than you do. In essence, they feel like you’ve made it their problem. And if they feel you’ve made it their problem, it’s going to be your problem, with interest.

You’ve probably heard the aphorism “what interests my boss fascinates me.” This is your challenge. You must convince your boss that this issue is your number one priority, and that you will not rest until it’s solved. List out all of the things you’re already doing, and all of the things you are planning to do, to solve the issue. Only then will your boss believe that you are taking ownership of the issue, at which point they will likely breathe out and relax a little.

Ask for help

Ideally, you want your boss by your side, helping you to solve the issue, not micromanaging you on an hourly basis. Otherwise, you have two problems to solve; the issue itself, and an irate, fearful boss. In any case, if the issue is big enough, your boss is going to get involved, so you’re better off directing their energy in a way that’s helpful to you.

Once you’ve listed out all of the things you’re doing and planning to do, ask for guidance. It might sound like, “as you can see, I’m doing these ten things to solve this issue right now, but I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. Given all of your experience, I’d love your help and guidance. Is there anything else that you think I should be doing?”

Your boss is now invested in helping you solve this issue, so you have one final card to play; make some requests to help you get it done. Determine the two or three things that your boss can do to help you, and ask for them. Perhaps it’s removing some bureaucracy, or freeing up your diary, or giving you some resources; whatever it is, this is the time to ask.

I hope this blog will help you to deal constructively with the attentions of your boss, and build an even more effective partnership with them over time.

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about PETER

For two decades, Dr. Peter Fuda has been a Sherpa to leaders, teams and organizations across the globe. He’s coached more than 250 CEOs to measurably higher levels of performance. His consulting company has delivered dozens of cases of business transformation and thousands of individual cases of leadership transformation, at a success rate of greater than 90%.

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