Memo to the micromanaged from Judy

The fear and powerlessness readers describe shows how much micromanagement can diminish employees’ commitment and drive. It also shows that we are more conditioned to react to our work environment rather than to try to control it.

Although micromanagement was the theme of many of the comments, few commented on what they could do to make the situation better. One writer noted the absence of comments about how to take charge of your career. He wrote, “I am a GS-15 Deputy CIO and on my way into the [Senior Executive Service’s Candidate Development Program]…. It is extremely disheartening and frustrating to see how disenfranchised these commenters are. What I haven’t read from most of these comments is how they have taken their own careers into their own hands. Have they had the courage to professionally have that crucial conversation with their management? Have you made your own changes to improve your situation…. Complaining and whining about management is the status quo. I can’t say that all managers are great, but it works both ways. I’m lucky that my staff can provide me with feedback to help me improve my leadership skills. Put up or shut up.”

For the micromanaged, you can take your career into your hands by learning to manage upward. Of course, managing upward might seem to be an impossible task, especially when a boss is difficult to work with. The key is to work on communication and find ways to connect with leadership. A little boldness helps, too.

For example, don’t be afraid to let others know that you completed a report or project benchmark. If you brought your A game, let others know.

It’s also appropriate to use informal opportunities, such as hallway conversations, to network and develop friendly work relationships, even with your boss.

Steve Katz, a former chief counsel at the Merit Systems Protection Board, compared managing difficult bosses with lion taming in his book “Lion Taming, Working Successfully with Leaders, Bosses and Other Tough Customers.” He described how to bring out the lion tamer in you to deal with the strong and powerful around you.

Although it was published a few years ago, the book’s premise is still relevant. Katz wrote about understanding and dealing with a lion’s — or leader’s — need for dominance, social standing and survival.

“Lion-taming is about rapport, not domination,” he wrote. “It means building trust, respect and confidence. Ultimately, managers accountable for performance are vulnerable because of it. As lion tamers know, lions need to know you won’t hurt them, they need to see you have something they need, and they need to let you give it to them.”

Lion taming is another way to view managing upward. It requires changing how you talk with the boss. Even though we all would like a boss to be a good listener, you can help make that happen by understanding and adapting to how your boss wants things communicated.

Some managers prefer a brief e-mail summary of a topic before meeting with you or highlights of a conversation in a few bullet points. As one senior-level employee commented, “If the boss wants everything done in charts in blue, I do charts in blue.”

It might also mean changing where you communicate. For example, the boss’ desk is not always the best place to talk. Many bosses feel cornered at their desks. Others feel that it is their private space, the equivalent of their home.

You need to find or create the lion’s pedestal in another part of their office or out of their office. Areas away from their desk include another seat where they feel comfortable and in command of the room, such as sitting at a conference table or in another chair or standing.

As an employee, you have more power than you realize, even if you are micromanaged. By finding things you and the boss c n agree on — such as the agency mission — and bring clear, on the manager’s terms, you can explore expectations and discuss priorities. 

About the Author

Judith Welles is a retired federal employee who has also worked in the private sector. She lives in Bethesda, Md.

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