Working for someone who is a micromanager is hard work. There is no denying it, and it is especially true for Assistants. We are there to save our Executive’s time and the organisation money. It is hard to do that part of our job if our Executive is involved in everything that we do. Micromanagers are usually well-meaning, but they want to be in control of everything and ultimately think they can do everything better than everyone else. It is exhausting for them, and it is demoralising for everyone else! How do you work with a micromanager without going crazy or quitting? There are strategies you can put into place that will help you work with a micromanager. They take a long time, but if you love your job or you don’t want to quit, they are worth initiating.

How to take the initiative when working with a micromanager

When working with a micromanager, you need to realise two things. Firstly, your manager is going to have a high level of anxiety, and you will need to manage this. Secondly, you need to build a lot of trust between the two of you. They need to trust you explicitly, and you have to work very hard never to let them down.

What do they expect from you? 

The first thing you need to work on is how you communicate with your Executive. The lines of communication need to be open and honest. I know this is hard to do with a micromanager if you are honest, everything will spill out how much you hate their micromanaging! Instead, be realistic about your expectations and ask them to be honest about theirs. What standards are the most important to them? Once you understand this, you can work at that level.

Keep them in the loop at all times 

Again, this is frustrating, but you have to remind yourself that they need to know this stuff. They will feel out of control and anxious if they don’t know what is going on. So, you should check in with them daily, write update reports on your work and schedule regular catch-ups. When it comes to working with a micromanager, you should get ahead of the problem. You know they want to be involved, and they are worried when they are not in the loop. So, share everything. Keep them in the loop and manage the flow of information.

Take the initiative but take it slowly

Once you feel like you have gained a level of trust, you can start to take some action. The thing with micromanagers is that they take on way too much work, that is probably below their paygrade and causes a lot of stress. They need a strong Assistant to take tasks away from them and organise their day so that they can concentrate on the bigger-picture stuff. Again, it is hard work, but you have to over-deliver every single day that you work with a micromanager. They need to be impressed. You need to anticipate their concerns and work one maybe even two steps ahead of them. How do you do this? Get involved in everything that they do. Ask lots of questions and read everything that goes to them (via email and any paperwork). If they are always asking you about your work or reminding you of deadlines, make sure you hit those deadlines way ahead of time. You know they are going to ask you, so why not reply with ‘well, actually, I’ve already done it, and the details are on your desk/ email’.

Do they have enough work? 

I know this isn’t your job, but it is worth thinking about it. Do they have enough work to keep them busy? I’ve worked with micromanagers before, who micromanaged because they didn’t have a lot of work and they needed to fill their day with something. If you are in the position, it probably isn’t going to do your career much good. You want to work with an Executive who is dynamic and moving the organisation forward. Their work should matter, and so should yours. If you are working with a micromanager who doesn’t have a lot on their plate, it might be worth looking for another role.

Can you tell them they are micromanaging? 

It depends on the type of Executive you work for and their personality. If you work for a well-meaning Executive, then you should try to have a conversation with them. They will be so stressed about ‘letting go’ of work that it might be a relief actually to talk to someone about their anxiety. If you work in a more restrictive environment and don’t feel comfortable offering that feedback, then you should probably address the issue in your performance review. Make it about you, rather than them. Ask for more challenging projects, say you would like to complete some tasks from start to finish on your own, obviously, updating them frequently, but something that challenges you. If you get this chance, regularly thank them for the opportunity and their trust.

As I said, it is not easy for an Assistant to work with a micromanager, but it is manageable if you try to understand their point of view and work with them over a long period time to get them to trust you and see that you are excellent at your job.

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