What is a micro-manager and why is it bad for business?

Drake International

We’ve all heard the term, or even experienced a little dose of micro-management, you may have even been guilty of it yourself! It is easy to point the finger at a perceived micro-manager and label them as an aggressive, power-hungry monster. However, the psychology behind this behaviour is much more complex and can put even us ordinary folk at risk of micro-managing behaviour. According to psychologists, the most common reasons people micro-manage are attributed to the following factors:

The “Saviour” Complex

There are leaders who thrive on being the one who saves the day. They subconsciously set people up to fail (sometimes even intentionally) so that they can be the person who comes in to rescue everything.

Validation of their own skillset

This kind of leader has always been recognised for their technical capabilities. It is a struggle to let go and trust in someone else to be able to match up their expertise. They are also used to people recognising their abilities and they find it hard to let other people shine.

Imposter syndrome and anxiety

Then there is the imposter syndrome, which is when people don’t feel like they are meant to be in the position they are (even if they are fully capable). They feel like an imposter and have anxieties about failing or being incompetent; they don’t trust themselves, so how could they trust their staff?

New to leadership

Another risk factor for micromanagement is when someone is relatively new to a leadership position. They are so used to doing the work themselves and find it hard to let go and allow someone else to take care of the nitty gritty whilst they focus on strategy. Without adequate leadership training, there is a risk of bad practice and a recipe for disaster.

Of course, there are also control freaks, perfectionists and generally bad leaders who don’t know how to coach and train their staff effectively. But these are a much rarer occurrence.  High pressure environments, “blame-culture” and toxic work environments can drive even the best leaders to become micro-managers. 

What are the broader ramifications?

One of the biggest drivers of poor performance and employee turnover is caused by conflict with a colleague or manager. Employees need to feel empowered and trusted. If staff are being micro-managed, this can lead to job dissatisfaction and resentment, resulting in a toxic work environment.  A leader engaging in micro-managing behaviour is sending a clear message that they do not trust staff to do a job. If the employee does not feel trusted, they retaliate these feelings of mistrust and thus a toxic cycle of untrustworthiness ensues.

Marie-Claire Ross, a leader expert on Trust and Leadership, has devised a 5-step framework to address micro-management issues within the workplace. It comes down to two main factors; 1) change the mindset of the leaders and 2) teach them how to delegate.

But how do we change mindset? One practical tool recommended is the Drake P3 Assessment resource. This tool provides in-depth communication reports and suggests strategies to adjust behaviour. It facilitates an open dialogue between team members and leaders to improve communications. Using this tool enables leaders to identify improvements and work practically to address issues.

How do you teach how to delegate? Marie-Claire Ross has a practical tool called the 5 Step Briefing Framework, providing clear goals and a defined plan developed in consultation with employees. It is designed to ensure leaders and their direct reports have clear, two-way dialogue to unearth any potential issues or stuck options and talk about them honestly.  Ensuring that you avoid any potential problems before they happen.

  1. Construct the brief and expectations – Clear deliverables and expectations. What does success look like and how will it affect the team?
  2. Discuss the brief with your team – a two-way dialogue with the team. Give people an opportunity to ask questions and offer input. Ensure everyone is on the same page
  3. Reduce risks – Plan for unexpected challenges, does the team have the necessary skills and availability? Are there adequate resources?
  4. Progressive feedback – Schedule set times for check-ins such as bi-weekly updates. Give timeframes for goals and reduce the need for ad-hoc check ins which can be a source of anxiety and frustration for the team.
  5. Outline the consequences of an unsuccessful outcome – This needs to be done at the initial planning process so everyone has a full understanding of the situation.

To reduce micro-managing behaviour, HR needs to be involved in assessing leader performance and KPI’s need to include things such as positive feedback and not just sales targets. The entire culture needs to be geared away from any kind of micro-management risk factors such as aggressive sales targets or “results at any cost”. The HR strategies need to be holistic and incorporate a range of tactics to get the best out of their leadership and staff.

Contact Drake at 13 14 48 to attract and hire your next leader or explore Drake P3 , our behavioural assessment tool empowering you to find, select, manage, motivate and retain talent. You can take the FREE test today to view your own unique behavioural profile.

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