Micro-Managers: Understanding the Roots, Development, and Manifestations of a Controlling Management Style

The term “micro-manager” refers to an individual in a managerial position who closely oversees, controls, or excessively involves themselves in the work of their subordinates. While their intentions may be driven by a desire to achieve the best possible outcomes, micro-management can have detrimental effects on employee morale, productivity, and overall workplace dynamics. This article delves into why micro-management occurs, how it develops, its characteristics, and provides examples to better understand this controlling management style.

Why Micro-Management Happens:

Micro-management typically arises from a manager’s underlying fear of failure or loss of control. Managers may feel the need to overcompensate for their insecurities by closely monitoring and directing their subordinates. Additional factors that contribute to micro-management include:

  1. Lack of trust: A micro-manager may doubt their team’s ability to perform tasks independently, causing them to intervene in the work process.
  2. Perfectionism: A strong desire for perfect results can lead a manager to obsess over every detail, making it difficult for them to delegate tasks effectively.
  3. Inexperience: A newly appointed or inexperienced manager may lack confidence in their leadership abilities and compensate by asserting excessive control over their team.
  4. Organizational culture: A workplace culture that promotes or rewards micro-management can further encourage this behavior.

Development of Micro-Management:

Micro-management can develop over time, starting subtly before escalating to more apparent controlling behavior. It often begins with a manager closely monitoring their team’s work, providing excessive feedback or direction, and gradually taking on more tasks themselves. As the manager becomes more entrenched in this behavior, they may struggle to relinquish control, perpetuating the micro-management cycle.

Characteristics of Micro-Management:

Micro-management can manifest in various ways, but some common traits and behaviors include:

  1. Excessive oversight: Micro-managers tend to monitor their employees’ activities closely, often requiring frequent progress updates or access to their work.
  2. Overemphasis on minor details: Micro-managers may fixate on trivial aspects of a project or task, detracting from the bigger picture and delaying the work process.
  3. Difficulty delegating: Micro-managers struggle to delegate tasks effectively, either by refusing to delegate at all or by assigning tasks and then taking them back when they feel the work is not being done correctly.
  4. Inability to empower employees: Micro-managers often undermine their team’s autonomy and decision-making, which can lead to decreased employee motivation and engagement.

Examples of Micro-Management:

  1. Email surveillance: A micro-manager may require their employees to cc them on all email correspondence or insist on reviewing and approving all outgoing messages.
  2. Excessive meetings: Micro-managers often hold frequent meetings to discuss minor updates, project details, or address minor issues, consuming valuable time and resources.
  3. Task repetition: A micro-manager might require their employees to perform the same tasks repeatedly, even after demonstrating competence, as a way to maintain control over the work process.
  4. Unnecessary intervention: Micro-managers often intervene in tasks that their subordinates are capable of handling independently, slowing down the work process and undermining employees’ confidence.


Micro-management is a controlling leadership style that stems from a manager’s fear of failure, lack of trust, perfectionism, or inexperience. It often starts subtly and escalates over time, manifesting through excessive oversight, an overemphasis on minor details, difficulty delegating, and an inability to empower employees. By understanding the roots, development, and characteristics of micro-management, organizations and individuals can work towards fostering a more collaborative and trusting work environment that promotes autonomy, motivation, and productivity.