Here you are, doing your best to lead your team well, build a healthy culture, and achieve the goals set out for you. Along comes your boss who then micromanages you and your team. This has you questioning yourself while shaking your team’s confidence in your ability to lead. So, what do you do? Without positional authority over your boss, you may feel powerless to affect change. You know the culture you want, but how do you get it? How can you lead effectively when the problem stems from how your boss leads?
This is a challenge many leaders face. It tempts them to move on to greener pastures, something easier said than done. Especially when they really enjoy their work and team. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to improve the situation.
Leaders generally have their greatest impact on those they lead due to their position. However, although influence is amplified by position, it is not required. Thus, it is possible to influence upwards and lead one’s own boss. But before we dive into how you can do that, there is one other point to consider first.
Test your perceptions
It is easy to assume a boss is micromanaging, even when they are not. Some of this is due to differences in leadership style while some is related to insecurity. Thus, before trying to correct a micromanaging boss, we need to be sure that it is actually taking place. Hence, we need to clarify between perception and reality.
This can best be done through objectivity by taking people out of the equation. A leader provides direction, coaching, and ensures accountability within their team. Is this what is taking place? If so, be grateful as many leaders do not do this. Next, assess for reasonableness. This part is trickier as our biases quickly enter into play. To compensate, view this as though you were an observer, seeing this happen to your boss, or another leader. Would you still view it as unreasonable, or is it just different than how you would do it?
Once you have done all that, if you believe your boss’s approach will benefit from improvement, then it is time to influence up. How open your boss is to your input and the nature of the issue will affect your approach. Thus, I will give you a few options to consider.
Communication issue: intention VS perception
What we view as micromanaging may not be. Likewise, micromanaging may stem from an intent to support that has gone too far. Whichever the case, getting curious is the best course of initial action. Open a dialogue with your boss. Express what you are feeling/sensing and see if that is what is intended. If they don’t mean to micromanage, they will gladly work with you to adjust behavior.
Insecurity in a leader often leads to micromanaging and lack of delegation. This is harder to overcome but may be possible. The approach here is to provide them with a sense of security. Ask your boss how you can support them and help their day be a success. When your boss knos you have their back, they can ease up a bit. This allows them to extend greater trust and be more open adjusting their style.
Another approach to build their trust is through dialogue. Work to get clear on what it is they want you to achieve, and what they want you to avoid. Once you have that, then you can ask the money question: “How can I demonstrate that I am achieving X and avoiding Y so that you can trust the work I do?”
A little side note here, this is a good thing for all leaders to think through when assessing how they engage with their team members. Knowing and communicating this effectively is a great way to help prevent a leader from slipping into micromanaging or neglecting accountability.
Willingness to grow issue:
Ideally, all leaders are willing to grow and actively seek to do so. When testing your boss’ willingness to grow you have to be careful. Approach this the wrong way and you may just trigger insecurity issues that make existing problems worse. For example, if you flat ask your boss if they want to grow as a leader, what they may hear is, “You suck and I can do better.” This scenario does not end well.
A better approach involves helping them feel secure in their leadership by positioning them as the guide from which you are seeking assistance. This can be done by saying: “I am wondering if you would be willing to help me grow as a leader? I have some books we can read and then discuss if you are available.” This is a more subtle and neutral way to influence up. This provides a non-threatening environment from which they will be more open to learn and grow. With the boss in a position of helper they are exposed to concepts that will help them become a better leader. This provides ample opportunity to discuss ways of implementing the learning, not only with how you lead, but also how your boss leads you.
A couple good book recommendations would be The Motive and Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni. And then many of his other great books like The Advantage and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. You can also tap into John Maxwell’s books as he has plenty on communication and leadership development.
How will you influence up?
Influencing up is challenging and takes time but is very rewarding. Through modelling behavior and engaging in the right kind of dialogue it is possible to turn a micromanaging boss into a great ally. The tips I have provided here will lead you in the right direction. If you would benefit from further assistance, I would be happy to discuss further how I can assist you in your leadership journey.