Do You Have a Micromanaging Boss?

How excessive monitoring erodes trust and creativity

Posted May 19, 2016

Carol is a dedicated college professor. She cares about her students, develops innovative courses, and has won national awards for her research. But lately she’s become discouraged and disengaged. Burnout? No, her new dean’s micromanaging policies have undermined her intrinsic motivation.

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When Dean Tucker came on board two years ago, he saw the university as a business, hiring a cadre of middle managers to monitor the faculty, paying for them by cutting department budgets and funds for teaching and research. The managers churned out monthly assessments and flow charts, issued weekly bulletins about faculty productivity, and required faculty to ask their permission before developing new courses or holding department  meetings. The faculty complained about less time to prepare their classes or meet with students, as the traditional rhythm of teaching and research was broken by frequent interruptions, meetings to “roll out” new administrative policies, and more rounds of assessments. When the assessments showed a decline in productivity, lower morale, and a rise in student complaints, the managers redoubled their efforts to monitor the faculty.

Carol’s situation is a growing trend in higher education. Yet research has shown that micromanaging undermines morale, motivation, and creativity. It is no wonder that Carol and her colleagues are demoralized and disengaged. Deci and Ryan’s research has found that imposing external measures upon intrinsically motivated people actually diminishes their motivation (1985, 2000). Research has also found that creativity is undermined by micromanaging (Zhou, 2003), frequent interruptions, time pressure, excessive focus on short-term goals instead of a larger vision, and inadequate resources which includes not only funding for supplies but sufficient time to plan (Amabile, Hadley, & Kramer, 2002). By contrast, leadership studies reveal that workplaces flourish when workers are respected, included in the decision-making process, and feel they can trust their leaders (Dreher, 2015; Kouzes & Posner, 1993 ).

If you’ve been feeling discouraged and disengaged at work, the problem may not be you but a dysfunctional work environment. If you’re a supervisor and have been micromanaging, you might ask yourself, “What can I do to be more open and transparent, respect my colleagues, and promote greater trust?


Amabile, T. M., Hadley, C.N., & Kramer, S. J. (2002, August). Creativity under the gun. Harvard Business Review, 52-61.

Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Dreher, D. E. (2015). Leading with compassion: A Moral compass for our time. In T. G. Plante (Ed.). The psychology of compassion and cruelty: Understanding the emotional, spiritual, and religious influences (pp. 73-87). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z., (1993). Credibility: How leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.

Zhou, J. (2003). When the presence of creative coworkers is related to creativity: Role of supervisor close monitoring, developmental feedback, and creative personality. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 413-422.


Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.

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