Development, Leadership, Micromanagement

‘Chip bit me!’: Tetanus Shots and the Conscious Act of Micromanaging

Chip bit my finger.

It was 100% my fault. Instead of leaving the peanuts on the window sill like I usually do, I decided to hold them in my hand to “see what would happen.” The worst part? I knew exactly what would happen. When I felt Chip’s tiny teeth sink into my finger, I panicked, he panicked, and we both ran in opposite directions.

Chip thought he was grabbing a peanut and I was micromanaging.

Back in 2014, Muriel Maignan Wilkins wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review which discussed the signs, symptoms, and treatments of micromanagement. For a quick reminder, here are some of the signs according to Wilkins:

“- You’re never quite satisfied with deliverables.
– You often feel frustrated because you would’ve gone about the task differently.
– You laser in on the details and take great pride and /or pain in making corrections.
– You constantly want to know where all your team members are and what they’re         working on.
– You ask for frequent updates on where things stand.
– You prefer to be cc’d on emails.”

We’ve all had a manager, or been a manager who micromanages. And I think we all know that micromanagement is necessary in certain situations. I’ve asked to be cc’d on emails and I have asked for more than one update. But we also know that consistent micromanagement leads to resistance, lack of motivation/productivity, and the decentralization of any group consensus. We are quick to blame micromanagement for issues in the workplace, but we have also become accustomed to creating a safety net. We have allowed ourselves to believe that micromanaging can be an act of the subconscious.

Wilkins (as well as many others) writes, “If you’re like most micromanagers, you probably don’t even know that you’re doing it.”

I would argue the opposite: if you’re like most micromanagers, you know exactly what you’re doing.

As I held those peanuts in my hand, I knew I was micromanaging. I knew that I had two choices: I could leave the peanuts on the window sill or I could hold them in my hand. Either way the squirrel would get fed, but I chose to involve myself to an extent that wasn’t necessary.

When it comes to micromanagement, we need to resist the urge to look at it as a subconscious act. The fact is, it’s a conscious act. You know when you’re asking to be cc’d on emails, and you know when you’ve asked for the 6th update in 48 hours. We default to the subconscious because accusing someone of being a conscious micromanager associates them with the negative and sometimes fatal symptoms of micromanagement. And being an accuser comes with a great amount of responsibility, especially when someone is innocent until proven guilty.

But why do we need to look at micromanagement as a conscious act? Because consciousness allows us to hold an individual accountable. A conscious act can be coached, mentored, called-out, and developed. It can be spoken about and it can be questioned. It can’t be excused but it can be changed. But if we continue to tell ourselves that most micromanagers don’t know that they are micromanaging, then we will continue to hold the concept of micromanaging accountable instead of the micromanager.

Having to get a tetanus shot because I got bit by a squirrel was a real shinning moment of adulthood. But I couldn’t blame anyone or anything for the position I was in. I consciously chose to hold those peanuts in my hand and it came back to bite me in the ass…and finger.

Labelling micromanagement as a conscious act cannot change the negative impacts of micromanagement, but it can change the micromanager…Who’s ready for more accountability!?


P.S. Here’s Chip eating a peanut…

DSC_0651Image: ©Brianna MacLellan