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Managing a micromanager

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Q. I’m a VP at a small firm. The president and COO is a micromanager. But it is not that he micromanages me—he triangulates (i.e., he goes to others below me, my direct subordinates) and has them do things for him. I only find out by accident, often weeks later, and usually when there’s a crisis! Because I’m the executive “in charge,” guess who gets the blame? I have already met with him and told him to stop. When he did not, I went to his superior, a hands-off, in-absentia figurehead CEO. Still no relief. Any suggestions?

A. Here are four strategies that might work:

1. Open communication channels. The normal tendency for frustrated managers in your position is to shut down communication with the meddler because they’re angry and resentful. But that will only increase your isolation. Instead, turn the tables on this micromanager: Initiate lots of contact with him. Call two or three times a day with questions, updates, status reviews on business projects, etc. Hound him, but make sure you have a valid business reason for each call.

This may sound like a silly chore, but the time you spend launching this proactive upward communication can ultimately save you the hassle of putting out fires caused by his meddling. Why? Given the frequency of your chats, he’ll probably mention to you if he wants something done.

2. Befriend his administrative aides. A secretary can alert you when he’s attempting to micromanage by giving you a heads-up of what’s going on behind your back.

3. Appeal to your staff. Explain the situation and your concern about being blindsided by crises. Tell them you understand that they’re often put in an uncomfortable position by the COO, but ask them to at least let you know whenever the COO contacts them.

4. Look for patterns. Examine the last five incidents of the COO’s micromanaging. What was the nature of his request? Might you satisfy his concerns in a pre-emptive strike? Let’s say he keeps asking your staff to redo their reports to include certain figures. From now on, give him an advance copy of the report and ask point-blank if there’s anything else he wants to know.

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