If there is one type of manager that’s universally reviled throughout the business world, it’s the “micromanager.”

Employees and managers alike have come to view micromanagement—which Merriam-Webster defines as managing with “excessive control or attention to detail”[1]—as a singular evil.

For employers, the problem is its effect on worker productivity. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology demonstrates that, in general, the added pressure that comes from excessive scrutiny adversely effects performance.[2] Rebecca Knight furthermore warns that “Micromanaging dents your team’s morale by establishing a tone of mistrust—and it limits your team’s capacity to grow.”[3]

For employees, being on the receiving end of any sort of micromanaging can be exasperating. As Muriel Maignan Wilkins writes for the Harvard Business Review “Absolutely no one likes to be micromanaged. It’s frustrating, demoralizing, and demotivating.”[4] But it isn’t just annoying, or inconvenient. As Amy Gallo observes, micromanagement “can stunt your professional growth.”[5]

And so in light of all this, it is interesting to hear what Robert Sutton has to say on the topic.

In Good Boss, Bad Boss (2010), Sutton, who is a Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University, in fact seems to defend the practice. For instance, he singles out Pixar’s Oscar-winning director Brad Bird as an exemplar of a “good boss” despite what appears to be an obvious inclination to micromanage (p. 28):

Brad…leads rollicking arguments [with subordinates] about one tiny detail of a film after another.

And then later, on that same page, Sutton goes a step further and concludes that tendency may actually be a good thing:

The best bosses realize that when they focus on the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.

So contrary to what the rest of the business world believes, Sutton apparently sees micromanagement as the hallmark of a “good boss,” not a bad one.*

 

See you next Friday.

 

 

*Blogger’s Note: The point of this post is not to convince you that micromanaging your employees is necessarily a good idea. Nor a bad one. Instead, the larger point I’m trying to make with this, and all of the posts in my “Unconventional (mis)management non-wisdom” series is simply this: For each and every pearl of management “wisdom” that you might come across, or have otherwise come to believe, there exists an equally convincing counter-argument, or equally sincere observation that advocates for behaving in precisely the opposite way.

 


 

Endnotes

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/micromanage. Retrieved March 8, 2017.

[2] “Choking Under Pressure: Multiple Routes to Skill Failure,” by Marci S. DeCaro, Robin D. Thomas, Niel B. Albert, and Sian L. Beilock. Journal of Experimental Pyschology, 2011, 140:3, pp. 390-406.

[3] “How to Stop Micromanaging Your Team,” By Rebecca Knight. Harvard Business Review (online), August 21, 2015. https://hbr.org/2015/08/how-to-stop-micromanaging-your-team. Retrieved March 8, 2017.

[4] “Signs That You’re a Micromanager,” by Muriel Maignan Wilkins. Harvard Business Review (online), November 11, 2014. https://hbr.org/2014/11/signs-that-youre-a-micromanager. Retrieved March 8, 2017.

[5] “Stop Being Micromanaged,” by Amy Gallo. Harvard Business Review (online), September 22, 2011. https://hbr.org/2011/09/stop-being-micromanaged. Retrieved March 8, 2017.