Is your boss a micromanager? You know the type, they give you an assignment, then check every step of the way to see how you’re doing.
Midway in their checks they offer to help because they can do it quicker or they understand it better or they know what the client wants.
And boom, you’ve been micromanaged. They swoop in, gather that project back to their chest and say they’ll call you if they need help.
There goes your project. You thought you were leading it and had plans of how to manage it yourself. Instead, you no longer have ownership, now you are just tailing along as part of the support team.
Autonomy is motivating
I talk a lot about Dan Pinks video on motivation in my coaching. He has the research to prove that autonomy is incredibly motivating.
Being allowed to figure something out for yourself makes your job interesting and you more willing to get out of bed and go to work.
If you have any doubt try to help a 2 year old and watch them snatch it back saying “I do it”. We enjoy a challenge. We enjoy learning.
So what can you do to hang onto the projects your manager gives you, without having them perched on your shoulder at every step?
6 steps that allow you to do it your way
1. When you get the project establish the boundaries. Ask your boss if you are taking this through to the end or if they are going to do part of it. Be clear what you’d like. If you feel uncomfortable with the responsibility, lay out where and when you’d like their help.
2. Understand their expectations – what is the end result they want to achieve? If you can understand what a successful conclusion to the project looks like, you know what to aim for. How you get there is then up to you.
3. Ask upfront about authority. Do they want you to check your decisions with them and then take action? Can you decide and take action, then report back to them regularly? Can you decide, take action and not report back unless there is a problem?
Each of those options represents a different level of authority – try to define upfront what your manager is offering to you.
4. Be very clear how they’ll stay informed. This is the biggest reason managers tell me they step back in – they don’t want to be caught out if they are asked how the project is going.
Arrange from the beginning what will make your boss comfortable. Do they want a catch up every morning, weekly or monthly?
Do they want to know about specific stages of the project? Do they want to know when other people are involved?
If you can be clear about what will make them feel informed and up to date, you proactively manage their fears. That will go a long way toward giving you autonomy in doing the work.
5. Be honest with your boss. If things aren’t going well let them know where the issues are. Hiding things doesn’t work, it comes out at some point and you’ll have lost their trust. Not to mention you could develop a nervous tic trying to be sure they don’t find out.
Tell them if you aren’t clear about how to proceed. Saying you’ve been too busy with other stuff will just make them anxious. If you aren’t sure about your next step, check in with them. Ask what they’d do next if it was their project.
Keep in mind everything you do is building their faith in your ability to manage on your own, without them hovering. It’s just as easy to lose their faith.
6. If they dip in, don’t get defensive or hand it back. Explain where you are and what your next steps are going to be. If they offer you a hand, tell them you’d like to give it a go yourself and you’ll let them know if you have any issues.
If your manager is the type to swoop in and flutter around you, ask if you can come to their desk in an hour and give them an update.
If they do take over, take time to think about what you want. If you want to continue and finish, go back to them later that day with your thoughts about how you’d like to manage the project through. Help them understand that it will be motivating for you and a good learning experience.
Then remind them of a few of the things they say they never have time for, that they might be able to try if you took this project off their hands.
Most managers aren’t aware they’re doing it
Most managers just don’t realize, in the moment, that they are micromanaging you.
When I talk to senior people about how they think their staff feels when they step in, they recognize that it’s demotivating.
They realize that it will make you feel less confident, not valued and unclear why you come in every morning.
If this is a chronic problem, talk to your boss about the role you want with projects and what they can do to allow you to learn and stretch your skills.
Most managers know that this is their real responsibility – managing and motivating you, not managing the work.
Now it’s your turn to manage them so you get the projects you want.