Here’s an idea: Stop complaining about micromanagers since you can’t change them, and start using them to your benefit. One of the most important workplace strategies is managing up. And one of the easiest types of boss to do this with is a micromanager.
Usually, when I tell people how to manage up, I tell people to work very hard to figure out what your boss cares about. With a micromanager, you know right away. She cares about your job responsibilities. Another difficult part of managing up is getting time with your boss. A micromanager loves to hang out with his staff, though, because that's the most effective way to get a hand in everything the staff is doing. So in some respects, micromanagers make your job of managing up much easier.
In the most extreme cases of micromanagement, the underling does the work and the boss does it all again. All other cases fall somewhere on the spectrum between that and good management. (Hold it. Are you wondering who is a micromanager? Here’s a test. Are you disappointed this is not an anti-micromanager tirade? Here’s a good one.)
So look, if you have a micromanager, you don't have to do your work because your boss is doing it for you. On top of that, your boss actually wants to be doing your work, so you giving him the opportunity is effectively managing up. Of course, you need to do a little work or your boss will get annoyed, because micromanagers don't want to start from scratch. They want to have you get started so they can dismiss your efforts.
So do that. Put very little thought into the work you are doing that you know your manager will redo anyway. If you need to come up with a list of ideas that you know your boss will not take, use only the time it takes to go to the bathroom to do the thinking for that list. And that's all. If you need to write a report that your boss will line edit to the point of oblivion, then write the report as a stream of conscious.
Now you have time for so many other things. Here are things to spend time on while your boss is micromanaging you:
1. Find an area of the business your boss does not feel competent in but you do. People micromanage because it's easier to do what they are comfortable with (your job) than what they are not comfortable with (management).
This means there's a hole somewhere in management. Find that hole and do a bit to fill it. You might be able to do some of your boss's job that he is neglecting (probably big-picture thinking). Or, if that doesn't work, write a memo identifying problems and offering concrete examples of ways you can fix them. Distribute the memo to a wider audience than just your boss.
2. Find a new person in the company to work for. Get the person interested in helping you move to his department by offering to do some projects for him since you have some extra time. Remember, do not dis your current boss. Just be great for the guy you want to work for.
3. Do a little side project of your own. There is a lot to learn in this world, and you probably have an Internet connection at your desk. If you don't, write a novel. If you do something productive with the majority of your time then you won't care that your boss makes the small amount of time you spend working for him unproductive.
All these tactics should float under the radar, until you reach a level to have the autonomy you want, according to Dean Dad, (who will make baseball fans happy with a Joe Girardi example of micromanagement.)
Until then, you have to keep your boss happy, and a micromanager doesn't want to know you are not giving a good effort. After all, micromanagers do not think they're micromanaging. They think they're helping. Your job is to make that person feel helpful. It's not that hard. Thank him for taking the time to line edit. Tell him you appreciate all the ideas he comes up with. Even if they suck. You can appreciate the volume. Give compliments to keep the relationship going well while you make your next move.
And wait. Before I'm done, let me say something to you whiners. Some of you will say that you are offended that your boss has a huge hand in your work but leaves your name on it. I say, Who cares? Focus on the three suggestions above and stop worrying about your reputation. You are not writing Moby Dick here. You're doing an office job. Get over it and focus on something else.
I have been micromanaged. In fact, I have been micromanaged by my current editor for my current book. And you know what? I gave in and wrote the book how she wanted me to, which really improved the book. And in that process I learned the difference between writing a column and a book. (Coming out May 2007 — Hooray!)
So think twice before you complain about being micromanaged. Sometimes you can actually learn something from that micromanager. I did. And I'm grateful.