The roots of micromanagement

by May 9, 20240 comments

The roots of micromanagement a barrier to inclusivity

Read on for why micromanagement typically makes employees doubt their abilities and blocks inclusive teams 

The concept of micromanagement sits on a spectrum. Viewed at one end as good intentions gone badly wrong or at the other a tool for workplace abuse. Micromanagers are frequently regarded to be the biggest blockers of building inclusive teams and psychological safety, and most people cite them as the bosses they want to avoid like  a plague of locusts. But what exactly are the roots of micromanagement?

Downsides of micromanagement

Micromanagement poses a significant barrier to building an inclusive team with a negative impact on trust, autonomy, and diversity of thought. When a leader micromanages, they undermine trust within the team by sending a message that they don’t believe in their team members’ abilities to carry out their jobs independently. This erodes the psychological safety necessary for diverse team members to express their ideas and perspectives freely.

Micromanagement typically makes employees doubt their abilities.

Inclusive teams thrive on diversity of thought and different perspectives, so micromanagers can actively restrict diversity by enforcing a single vision or approach. Micromanagement stifles autonomy, preventing team members from working to their potential, tapping into their creativity, and own judgment. It discourages innovation and inhibits the contributions of individuals who may have valuable insights or alternative solutions.

roots of micromanagement

Misplaced good intentions

At an event last week I heard one speaker suggest that micromanagement is all about misplaced good intentions. I think at times (although rarely) it can genuinely be that: someone is anxious about getting a job done well to meet their expectations. It can also be about a lack of experience and leadership training.

But after thousands of coaching hours and personal experience, I think it can be much more nuanced and complex. Research from Monster in August 2023  suggests that 73% of workers consider micromanagement to be the biggest workplace red flag and an indication of a toxic workplace culture.

Roots of micromanagement

Micromanagement often stems from a range of psychological factors, both around the manager and within an organisational context. This can include the following factors:

1. Need for control

Micromanagers frequently feel a strong need for control, perhaps because of insecurity, fear of failure, or a lack of trust in others’ abilities. They get overly involved to ensure that tasks are done exactly as they as they want, unwilling to delegate authority or responsibility.

2. Perfectionism

Perfectionist tendencies can drive micromanagement. Managers with perfectionist traits have an  “it’s my way or the high way” approach and that their way is the only correct way. This leads them to closely monitor and dictate every detail of a project.

Perfectionism can also be about fear of failure, another indication of a psychologically unsafe environment.

3. Lack of confidence and trust

Another of the numerous roots of micromanagement is the manager’s lack of confidence in their team’s abilities. This could be because they have had issues or disappointments in the past or they rate their own abilities higher. This makes them feel a need to to supervise closely and intervene frequently on all tasks. If a manager has made the hiring decision then we see another layer of insecurity.

At an extreme level experts consider micromanagement as a toxic trait and a form of abuse. It can result in employees feeling suffocated leading to low morale and absenteeism. It can even be used as an instrument for psychological bullying and harassment.

4. Insecurity and anxiety

Underlying feelings of insecurity and anxiety can drive micromanagement. Managers may feel threatened by their team members’ capabilities or worry about the consequences of mistakes, leading them to excessively control every aspect of a project.

If the organisation lacks psychological safety then the manager could be worried about repercussions on their own role and reputation. By closely overseeing every aspect of their team’s work, they attempt to maintain control and validate their role within an organisation.

5. Need for recognition and credit

Micromanagers may get overly involved to ensure that they receive credit for the success of projects. They may fear that if they delegate too much authority, they won’t be recognised for their contributions or leadership.

Worth a read: How to stop someone taking credit for your ideas – 3 Plus International

7. Communication issues

Poor communication skills can lead to micromanagement. Managers may not effectively communicate expectations or provide clear guidelines, leading them to constantly intervene to ensure tasks are completed to their satisfaction.

Micromanagement and gender

Research suggests that women in leadership positions may face higher scrutiny because of gender stereotypes and be more prone to micromanagement behaviours. A study by Eagly and Carli (2007) found that we judge women in leadership roles more harshly than men and they may feel pressure to adopt more controlling behaviors to prove their competence. Anecdotally that has been my experience.

Ultimately, micromanagement by any gender hampers the development of an inclusive culture where every team member feels valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their unique strengths. To foster inclusivity, managers must embrace a leadership style that promotes trust, empowers team members, and encourages diverse contributions.


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Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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