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The Secret Fear That Causes Bosses To Micromanage

Source | | Mark Murphy

You’re sitting at your desk, intensely focused on writing that big report, when you start to feel a weird tingling on the back of your neck. You try to refocus, furrowing your brow and redoubling your efforts, but you can’t shake the disquieting sense that you’re being watched. Finally, you give up and slowly turn around in your chair, sincerely hoping there’s not an ax murderer lurking behind you. “Ahhrh! Jeezum! What the?!?!?!?” you shriek as you flail out of your seat. Because looming a few inches behind you, watching your every move is your boss.

Not every micromanaging boss lurks in the office waiting to startle you with their best Norman Bates impression. But whether they’re skulking about or emailing you incessantly for status updates, being on the receiving end of micromanaging is frustrating, and even demoralizing.

So, why do bosses micromanage? Are they sadistically trying to cause us pain? Honestly, yes, there are some malformed personalities scattered throughout the world’s managerial ranks. But most of the time when you see a boss micromanaging, the root cause isn’t sadism, it’s fear.

There are lots of reasons why bosses experience fear. Some bosses fear a loss of control. For instance, if you’re an individual contributor programmer, you can resolve a lot of issues by yourself. You type your lines of code and if something goes wrong, you fix it. But if you’re a manager and something goes wrong, you can’t just hop in front of your computer and fix it. You oversee a bunch of programmers and your job is to convince them to go fix the problem. It’s one of the great ironies of having managerial authority; your title gets bigger but your personal control gets smaller. And the bigger your title, the less personal control you have.

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