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The Dark Side of Leadership: Introducing the Micromanager

These four tips will help managers focus on trust, not control.

Key points

  • Micromanagers exert excessive control on even the small, everyday tasks that their subordinates perform.
  • Constant oversight can make employees feel undervalued and mistrusted.
  • Micromanagement can discourage creative thinking and problem-solving.
  • Demonstrate trust in your employees by giving them autonomy and the space to execute their tasks.

Written by Saima Ahmad, PhD and Melissa Wheeler, PhD

Imagine a talented sculptor, meticulously working the clay — not into some grand masterpiece, but into a formless lump.

That's the essence of micromanaging: a toxic leadership style that suffocates creativity and crushes morale. Micromanagers exert excessive control on even small, everyday tasks subordinates perform. This can be exacerbated in remote working set-ups, where managers have less direct oversight of what their people are doing, not to mention how, when, or how long they are doing it.

Beneath the Surface

Photo by Lukas/Pexels
Source: Photo by Lukas/Pexels

Micromanagement often stems from a leader's fear of losing control, a lack of trust in their team, or an insecurity about their abilities. This management style is sometimes an indicator of deeper leadership deficiencies and can impede an organization's growth and success.

A manager's insecurity, self-doubt, and lack of confidence can obstruct their ability to delegate effectively or to trust their team's capabilities. The fear that the team might not meet targets can push leaders to micromanage.

Best and Worst Cases

Micromanagement can sneak up on even well-intentioned leaders, especially new managers who may feel pressure to prove themselves. It can be subtle, starting with a simple desire to stay "in the loop," which over time translates into excessive control over people, tasks, and follow-ups.

In the worst instances, micromovement can be a tool for workplace bullying, using control to keep others down and to steal credit for their work. By tightly controlling every detail, some micromanagers keep their team members feeling powerless and insecure. This, in turn, allows them to take credit for the team's work or prevent others from shining. Its harmful effects are felt particularly by millennials, who report a suite of unfavorable followership behaviors including anxiety, reduced innovation, and a fear of making mistakes.

Micromanaging may backfire due to:

Lack of trust. Constant oversight can make employees feel undervalued and mistrusted, and reduce job satisfaction and engagement.

Lack of creativity. Micromanagement can discourage creative thinking and problem-solving, as employees might feel that their ideas are mistrusted or devalued.

Lack of autonomy. When employees lack autonomy, they will need to continue to go back to the micromanager for approval or to make any decisions. This results in a bottleneck situation, where all decisions come to a halt until they can be approved.

Micromanagement might yield short-term results, but in the long run, it hinders the team’s growth, stifles productivity, and creates dependencies that weaken the organization. You might have noticed that some managers are great at getting things done and staying on budget, but they struggle when they get promoted. It's almost like they're too good at the nitty-gritty details. They get promoted because they're the "get stuff done" type, but when they move up the ladder, it's less about the day-to-day tasks and more about the big picture and letting go of some control.

The problem with these managers is that they often rely heavily on their operational skills. They're used to micromanaging everything because that's what brought them success. They often get stuck in this mode and can't quite switch gears to become more strategic.

To avoid these pitfalls, leaders can apply these four tips to overcome micromanagement tendencies:

  1. Hire Right, Delegate Smart: Focus on building a team with the skills and experience to excel. Delegate tasks by setting clear expectations, not with step-by-step instructions. Define goals clearly, and let your team brainstorm solutions and celebrate successful outcomes. Provide helpful but critical feedback.
  2. Empower, Don't Enable: Trust is the hallmark of any effective team. Demonstrate trust in your employees by giving them autonomy and the space to execute their tasks. Provide the resources and support your team needs and resist the urge to control every move. Empower them to make decisions and learn from mistakes in a psychologically safe environment that tolerates mistakes. Foster an environment where your team feels comfortable asking questions and raising concerns.
  3. Invest in Yourself, Regularly Self-Assess: Leaders who feel insecure or overwhelmed are more prone to micromanaging. Invest in your leadership development and self-awareness. Regular self-assessment can help leaders identify micromanaging tendencies. Consider seeking feedback from peers, mentors, or your team to gain insights into how your management style is perceived and where improvements can be made.
  4. From Doer to Leader: Shift Your Focus: Rising stars who excel at getting things done might find themselves micromanaging as they transition to leadership roles. Delegate tasks, trust your team's expertise, and focus on the bigger picture to empower others.

Leadership is about guiding, not gripping. By loosening the reins, you can empower your team and create a workplace where everyone thrives.


Ahmad, S. (2018). Can ethical leadership inhibit workplace bullying across East and West: Exploring cross-cultural interactional justice as a mediating mechanism. European Management Journal. 36(2), 223-234.

Ahmad, S., Islam, T., Sohal, A.S., Wolfram Cox, J. and Kaleem, A. (2021), "Managing bullying in the workplace: a model of servant leadership, employee resilience and proactive personality", Personnel Review, Vol. 50 No. 7/8, pp. 1613-1631.

Ahmad, S., & Sheehan, M. (2017). Understanding the lived experience of bullying in Australian workplaces: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 32(2). 74-98

Ryan, S. and Cross, C. (2024), "Micromanagement and its impact on millennial followership styles", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 45 No. 1, pp. 140-152.

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