Guidelines For Working With a Detail-Driven Manager

We all know that being “detail oriented” can be a wonderful quality, and quite often, those in leadership positions possess this very characteristic. However, in its extreme – sometimes referred to as micromanaging – it can prove challenging for employees who report directly to such a leader.

While it’s important to understand why certain individuals in supervisory roles may feel the need to “over-manage” seemingly arbitrary aspects of their team members’ responsibilities, let’s first identify what constitutes a detail-driven manager or “micromanager”.

Detail-driven managers - business man studying flow chart

What are some common characteristics of a micromanager?

  1. Rarely satisfied with team members’ output
  2. Frequently examining every detail of a project or task and taking great pride in making copious corrections
  3. Often expecting to know the location(s) of team members at all times of the day
  4. Requiring continual updates on tasks or projects
  5. Requesting to be cc’d on all team members’ outgoing emails and communications

Of course, no employee wants to be micromanaged. Yet, unfortunately, most leaders of this ilk are not even aware of their actions. In fact, some may be engaging in these behaviors with the best of intentions in an attempt to be thorough and build a reliable team. What employees may view as a direct affront toward the quality of their work may not necessarily be what it seems.

Why do managers micromanage?

A study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Riverside found that individuals who are more secure within their own of sense power and authority through the support of others, will naturally be more confident in the self-sufficiency and abilities of those around them, namely their direct reports.

Perhaps a leader who exhibits signs of “micromanagement” experienced a past issue with an employee who was habitually late with assignments or even “dropped the ball” on a major task or project; leaving him/her in charge of picking up the slack and providing explanations to his/her own boss or superior.  While this is just one example, there is usually a former or underlying reason contributing to these seemingly overbearing actions.

What are the effects of micromanagement?

While the general intentions of overly detail-driven leaders may be in the right place, it’s important to understand the potential consequences which often occur in extreme cases of micromanagement.

1.   Micromanagers eventually lose the control they seek.

A highly detail-driven leader typically feels the need to control most aspects of his/her life, including employees. Ironically, however, it is this very mindset that can cause a leader to eventually lose control of the very aspects they are so used to dominating. This eventually leads to a breakdown in communication, and ultimately, the ability to properly lead team members at all.

2.   Employees will learn not to trust their manager.

Whether they are conscious of it or not, micromanagers often portray a lack of trust toward their employees. Unfortunately, this can result in a sense of resentment or even decreased respect for the leader. As a result, morale and productivity will be reduced and the organization could even end up losing top talent to its competitors.

3.   Employees will become dependent on their manager.

Since micromanagers believe their way is best, employees may begin to feel as though they cannot do the work without the manager’s constant guidance. Instead of thinking “outside the box” and/or problem-solving on their own, employees will just wait for specific instructions from their manager, no matter how easy a task may be. In this case, micromanaging can lead to a decrease in creativity and innovation.

4.   It is easy for micromanagers to suffer from burnout.

Maintaining ultimate influence at all times can be exhausting. While periodic check-ins are necessary, sustaining a constant level of extreme scrutiny is quite stressful for everyone involved, including the conducting leader. In fact, in certain cases, it can adversely affect one’s health, and lead to burnout.

5.   Micromanagement leads to a high employee turnover.

As stated earlier, good employees want to know that they can be trusted by their leaders to provide quality work, especially those seeking to grow or move up within the company. All quality workers know that transparency and a healthy level of communication is required between team leaders and members; however, it is more common for micromanaged employees to eventually quit their jobs. Consequently, new hires must be acquired and properly trained which can adversely affect the company’s budget over time. High employee turnover will eventually affect the momentum of the department, and also adversely affect employee morale. Moreover, a constant rotation of employees can make it difficult for those left behind to form subsequent bonds with new coworkers.

What can employees do to earn their managers’ trust?

Since trust is often a major component to why some leaders feel the need to over-manage, there are certain actions employees can take to make their own experience with an overly detail-oriented leader more bearable.

1.   Show your support for your boss.

Of course, managers want the best for their team, and if they didn’t know on some level that you were up to the task, they wouldn’t have hired you to begin with. Yet, managers also know that their accomplishments will ultimately be rated by their own superiors based upon the performance of the team as a whole. Employees need to understand that it is their mission to support their boss. After all, the success of one is the success of all.

2.   Develop a positive relationship with your manager.

You spend a significant portion of your day with all of your coworkers, including your boss.  Therefore, it’s important to develop an encouraging working relationship with him/her. Of course, there is no need to be overly personal, but understanding your manager’s goals and perspective in the workplace will ultimately help you understand his/her behaviors. This in turn will increase your level of patience, making it easier for you to respond accordingly to some of the pressures and challenges you may encounter.

3.   Anticipate the needs of your boss.

Once you get to know your boss better, it will be easier for you to anticipate what he/she expects from you. For example, if you know your manager’s goal is to achieve the annual sales quota within 10 months, you can expect to schedule regular motivational meetings with the entire sales team. You can also ask your boss what you can do to help him/her during these meetings.

4.   Let your manager know ahead of time if there is a problem.

If you are positive ahead of time that your boss will be receiving bad news, it may be a good idea to warn him/her. An individual who feels more comfortable when in control of a situation will most likely not appreciate being caught off guard. Under the right circumstances, your warning will offer your manager time to prepare for an impending crisis.

5.   Meet or surpass your manager’s expectations.

All employees are expected to do their jobs well. When a team is successful, it reflects extremely well on the leader of that team. Moreover, the performance of the whole team indicates to his/her superiors whether or not your manager is an effective leader.

6.   Provide your boss with frequent updates.

If you know your manager prefers frequent updates and progress reports, don’t wait to be asked. If your boss is regularly updated, this will help you work without interruption and he/she may eventually learn to trust you with more important responsibilities.


Of course, managing people in any capacity is not an easy job. However, when instances of micromanaging occur, it is often simply in effort to produce the highest possible quality of work.

Conscientious employees who report to a highly detail-driven leader should consider talking with their boss. Discovering and ascertaining ways to make their job easier will often result in a newfound sense of security within your manager, thereby producing a less stressful experience for you as an employee.

Detail Oriented Manager - Individuals reviewing document at desk

Tip for Consideration:

Ask your boss what he/she needs in order to feel more comfortable with your abilities. Devise a method that will help the two of you work together in a more effective and efficient way. Subsequently, remain with the system for approximately one month. After this time has passed, ask to meet with your manager once more to assess the situation and request their feedback. Make adjustments if needed, and try again. If your boss continues to show distrust through extreme micromanagement, even after following this advice, it may be time to seek a transfer or even a new position if you have become ultimately unhappy in your work environment.

Further ReadingProactive Ways To Deal With Challenging Colleagues

Fred Coon, CEO

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