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Reverse Micromanagement

Nearly every experience provides a learning opportunity, even the experience of working under poor leadership. Poor leaders teach followers how not to behave. If the followers are paying attention, they will recognize poor leadership and remember their experiences when it’s their turn to lead, remember and behave differently, and thereby become better leaders.

In the IT industry, research has shown not only that more leadership is needed in order for projects to have a higher probability of success, but also that neglect of behavioral, social, and managerial factors attribute to project failure (Thite, 1999); so do not be surprised if you find yourself subordinate to someone who is a poor manager and leader. I have found myself in this situation more than once. I had a difficult time obtaining the leader’s trust, and as a result, he overly involved himself in the details of the project. Each time this happened, I am sure the leader had valid reasons for his actions: high pressure from his superiors, a history of previous failures on similar projects, political conflicts and disagreements at his level and above, dependence on the success of the project for the leader’s promotion or bonus—the list could go on. provides a great definition of a micromanager: “A boss or manager who gives excessive supervision to employees. A micro manager, rather than telling an employee what task needs to be accomplished and by when, will watch the employee’s actions closely and provide rapid criticism if the manager thinks it’s necessary. Usually, the term has a negative connotation because an employee may feel that the micro manager is being condescending towards them [sic], due to a perceived lack of faith in the employee’s competency. A micro manager may also avoid the delegation process when assigning duties and exaggerate the importance of minor details to subordinates” (Micro Manager, n.d.). I find it interesting that the subject of their definition is “a boss or manager” and not “a leader.”

If you find yourself in a situation in which you are being micromanaged, my recommendation is that you employ something I call “reverse micromanagement.” I don’t mean to use this term in the pejorative sense. Reverse micro-management as used here concerns communication. As communication is the foundation of program and project management, reverse micromanagement means providing your manager information about your project on a frequent basis. It simply means providing information and updates and asking for direction at frequent intervals, say every hour (or less). You, as the follower, initiate the communication whether the boss asks for information or not.

Only you can judge whether it is politically and socially safe to deploy such a technique. In the best case, your boss (say, for this example, Stephen) may be very happy to receive the information. You may build trust with him, establishing a solid relationship. You may convince him by your actions that he can delegate tasks to you without worry, that he can empower you without fear. In this case, let him tell you when he is receiving too much information. In this best case, your investment of time and energy to over communicate has paid off.

In the worst case, Stephen may be irritated by the frequent information updates. Be very careful in this case, because there may be an underlying reason that he does not want to hear from you, something political or personal, perhaps some type of hidden resentment. In this case, have a frank conversation with your boss and tell him how you feel. In this case, you are hemmed in, and there may be little you can do other than escape from your involvement with your boss.

In either case, if you pay attention, you will learn from the situation. You will gain experience to draw from, to build schemas that will help you determine the type of leader you want to be. You will understand how your followers perceive your actions, how and why they may interpret your style as micromanagement. Use this experience to gain selfawareness. Use self-leadership to become a “macromanager,” someone who defines work in broad terms, builds trusting relationships with your followers, and then leaves them alone to do their work.

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