It may be natural for business leaders to care deeply about the details of each major task that is going on around them. But those that ensure every last “i” is dotted and “t” is crossed may be labeled a micromanager.

There’s a balance to be found between ignoring the small stuff and sweating the small stuff. As with most workplace scenarios, communication is the key factor. Here’s how to walk that fine line.

Knowing the difference.

Where’s is that line between leading and micromanaging? Here’s a take by George Lawrence of Demand Media, who defines micromanagers as “intense scrutinizers.”

“The smallest detail can hold the greatest importance to a micromanager, much to the chagrin of the employees,” writes Lawrence. “In general, micromanagers do not fully trust the staff or employees. They constantly question employee actions, closely monitor every employee move and practically dictate every employee task.” Lawrence calls leaders “the polar opposite” of micromanagers: “While a leader may call an employee’s actions into question and will necessarily need to closely scrutinize some of an employee’s duties, the leader has faith in the workforce and the ability to inspire and gather a following. While there are many leadership styles, effective managers know how to strike a strong balance between managing themselves, their employees and their network.”

Encourage employees.

Tom Searcy wrote about micromanaging in a story for, and he enlisted “an admitted micromanager,” Jennifer Palus, to share her thoughts. One trigger for her micromanaging: “Employees that wait to tell you that they have changed the plan until it’s too late to disagree or react,” says Palus. “Consider an employee who agreed to kick off a detailed project at a day-long meeting. As everyone gathers for the meeting, she pulls her boss aside to say she did not bring any of the material because she has reconsidered and will wait until next week. She explains her logic, and it’s not unreasonable. However, her timing could not be worse. She effectively forced her boss into accepting her decision with no discussion or debate. The boss has no options. In the future, I can assure you, the boss will be hyper vigilant about this person’s adherence to agreed parameters and expectations.”

Palus says the preferred approach is to encourage employees to make suggestions to improve on a plan, but to do it the proper time. “Allow them to present their options and reasoning with enough time for discussion and decision,” says Palus.

Acknowledging requests.

Another trigger for Palus in Searcy’s story: staffers that don’t respond to direct requests. “Maybe it just got buried in the other 2,000 emails they received,” says Palus. “…Whatever the reason, when employees do not acknowledge a question, they have pushed a button in your micromanager brain. You may begin to panic that ignoring your emails may mean employees are also ignoring client questions and other key aspects of their job. What started as an easy-to-overlook inquiry in the third paragraph of an email has turned into the litmus test of a quality employee.”

The preferred approach? “Ask employees to acknowledge all incoming requests,” says Palus, “even if only to tell you that it will take two to four days to provide a complete answer. Feeling confident that the communication circuit is complete gives everyone a sense of peace.”


Speaking of email, Michael Pryor pinpoints it as a major factor in moving away from micromanaging in a story for “Email is well known for being a productivity killer,” writes Pryor. “Team members are inadvertently left out of email chains, the lack of instant response slows feedback and progress and an overflowing inbox quickly leads to increased anxiety.”

He recommends one-on-one meetings and “monthly all-hands meeting” to improve communication. “Don’t wait until there’s a burning issue or milestone to get the team together,” writes Pryor. “A regular cadence of company-wide communication gives employees a better sense of the big picture vision, how everyone is contributing to progress and an opportunity to have a voice.”