Servant Leadership Workplace-Micromanagement

Micromanagement: Termites in the Workplace

We’ve asked our clients this question countless times:

In your experience, what’s the worst practice of the worst leaders you have known in the workplace?

The answer is almost uniformly the same:


You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. Micromanagers:

  • Dictate, monitor and assess every step of a project.
  • Laser in on the trivial details and take great pride and/or pain in making corrections.
  • Avoid delegation of decisions.
  • Get irritated when people make decisions without consulting them.
  • Are never quite satisfied with deliverables.
  • Often feel frustrated because they would have done about the task differently.
  • Constantly want to know where all team members are and what they’re working on.
  • Ask for frequent updates on where things stand.
  • Prefer to be cc’d on emails.*

At best, micromanagement is annoying.

At worst, micromanagement is a form of real bullying.

One of the challenges in dealing with micromanagers in the workplace is that each individual act of micromanagement, considered alone, doesn’t seem so bad (except real bullying). It can be hard to make a complaint about being micromanaged because the examples of it have to be considered all together.

Indeed, a single act of micromanagement is like the single bite of a single termite.

The single bite of a single termite doesn’t make much of a difference. But when you get a lot of termites doing a lot of biting?

Watch out!

In the case of real termites, your house could fall down.

Or in the case of metaphorical termites – micromanagers – your team could fall down.

Studying organizational culture at a major international bank, Columbia Business School professor Sheena Iyengar “questioned employees about their personal levels of motivation, how fair they thought their work environments were, how satisfied they were with their jobs, and how happy they were overall.”

Any of us who have been micromanaged would not be surprised by the answer:

[T]he more choice [employees] thought they had, they higher they scored on all measures of motivation, satisfaction, and performance. Conversely, the more they felt their jobs were dictated by their managers, the worse they did on all these measures.”**

Lots of studies confirm Iyengar’s conclusion.

So, don’t let anyone tell you that micromanagement is no big deal.

It is a big deal.

Like termites.

And dare I say it . . . if your company has too much micromanagement, maybe it’s time to call in the exterminator. ***

What do you think?

Let us know.

As always, we appreciate your views.



And don’t forget to download our latest ebook, Servant Leadership in the Workplace: A Brief Introduction. It’s free!


* Some of these points are from a good Harvard Business Review article by Muriel Maignan Wilkins: “Signs That You’re a Micromanager.”

BTW, purposeful delegation – the opposite of micromanagement – is one of the top 3 practices of servant-leaders in the workplace context: “Servant Leadership – 3 Workplace Practices”  Here are three more posts on delegation from a servant leadership perspective:

“5 Questions Servant-Leaders Ask Before Delegating”

“Purposeful Delegation – A Key to Staff Development”

“7 Ways Dumping Ain’t Great Delegating”

** The Art of Choosing, The decisions we make every day – what they say about us and how we can improve them (London: Little, Brown 2010) 58-59. The quoted conclusion applies to employees from western cultures.

A highly recommended read. Shout out and thanks to Sagar Tandon for giving me the book as a gift!

*** Metaphorically, of course, not literally. Termite photo above courtesy of of Wikimedia Commons; any resemblance to actual micromanagers in your workplace is purely coincidental.