Dealing with a boss who is a control freak

Some bosses prefer micromanaging their team members.

It may have seemed well-intended at first – your boss kept close tabs on your work and made sure you presented yourself well throughout the company. But now that you’re no longer learning your role, the tight leash feels downright oppressive and embarrassing. Your boss is not only micromanaging you, he’s smothering you.

What’s going on?
Despite what you may think, the root of his micromanaging is probably not that your boss is a jerk or that he feels threatened by you. Rather, his actions might be explained by factors that have little to do with you, such as a poor understanding of his role as manager, micromanaging bosses of his own, a lack of motivation to question how he’s always done things, or personal insecurity.
That said, it can be hard to cut your boss some slack when he isn’t cutting you any. His harping about every small misstep you take can feel overwhelmingly personal. The good news is that you don’t have to resign yourself to being nit-picked to death. You can, little by little, own and direct a process that will enable your boss to start trusting you more and monitoring you less.

Here’s how:
1. Manage his insecurity.
Form an educated guess about where your boss’s sensitivities lie. If you believe, for example, that he’s intimidated by his boss, think of ways you can alleviate that pressure, such as running reports to better prepare him for meetings with his manager.
2. Don’t fight it.
Leadership consultant Ron Ashkenas suggests that instead of viewing your boss’s behavior as a blow to your ego, think about how you might actually benefit from it. Your boss may have your best interests in mind. Perhaps he wants to ensure you have a sound understanding of the company’s protocol, or the most effective ways to work the system to get things done.
Regardless of the cause, says Ashkenas, accept that your boss may have something important to teach you. Just try to learn as much as you can, as quickly as you can – in case he doesn’t eventually let up and you decide you can’t take it anymore.
3. Scrutinize yourself.
If your boss doesn’t appear to have faith in your ability to do your job, consider whether you’ve given him a reason to feel this way. Have you missed important deadlines? Delivered presentations that fell flat? Take a hard look at yourself – and look around. If your boss isn’t micromanaging other colleagues, his behavior could be a clue that you’re underperforming.
4. Look ahead.
Focusing on your future may help you and your boss interact more productively in the present. So initiate a discussion about long-term goals. Set up a one-on-one meeting, or ask if you can use one of your scheduled check-ins to talk about your role. Explain that you want to start communicating more regularly – and explicitly – about your growth and about how else you could support the department. Give him some examples of the types of projects you’d like to work on and the future role you envision for yourself. And then ask if he’ll work with you to create a plan for acquiring the skills you’ll need to realize your vision.

(Karen Dillon is the former editor of Harvard Business Review and co-author, with Clayton Christensen and James Allworth, of “How Will You Measure Your Life.”)

© 2014 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate