How to manage your over-controlling manager

Much is written about the importance of autonomy for professionals (there’s even a book Managing professionals? Don’t!). Predict & control mechanisms don’t work in complex organizations and control seems to be an anxious response to uncertainty. But… all these stuff is aimed at managers and leaders. They should let it go (sorry, too hard to resist…). What can you as a professional do to deal with the over-controlling manager (or organization)?

Make the manager your ally

The manager is most likely just trying to do his best. So, cooperate! The manager wants to get certainty, you want to do your job well. How can you create a win-win out of that? Ask your manager what is most vital for him. Is it on time delivery? High quality or high quantity? Explain what’s most important for you as well. Try to find the common ground and explain your manager what you need to get the best results.

Discuss control mechanisms

Everyone knows the forms with check boxes that are just filled out without thinking. The funny thing is, your manager thinks she’s more in control because of those forms while many employees don’t even think about the boxes they check. So, this is a control mechanism that’s clearly overshooting the mark. Start the discussion with your team and your manager. What I always explain to starting trainers and teachers: if you offer too much information, your students will choose what they remember. If you focus on the information that’s really important, chances are big they’ll remember it. It’s the same with these forms. If the manager wants you to control everything, the effect is that nothing is under control.

Ask your manager to focus on output, not on the how

Often, managers are professional managers. They don’t really understand what you’re doing. So, when they implement control mechanisms for the how, it will not be very productive. Instead, discuss output measures with your manager and procedures with your peers. Let your manager know your worried about quality as well, of course.

Ask for goals, not tasks

Many managers ask their team members to do a specific task. Make a presentation on the quarterly results, organize a meeting for the project team, improve the website. However, this approach limits you in what you can do and doesn’t give clarity in why you should do it. Ask your manager to reverse this by asking for goals. So, the presentation can be the act of inspiring the team to grow the operations next quarter. The meeting for the project team can be the act to get the team aligned on the project plan. And website improvement can be the act to improve customer experience. Ask for the why, not (just) the how or what.

Any suggestions?

Of course, this is no complete list. Thinks of ways you can help your manager to be less controlling and more productive. If you find any suggestions, I would love to hear about them!

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