Why Bad Bosses Insist On Micromanaging

Few things are less infuriating at work than having a boss breathing down your neck every second. These are the control-freak bosses who can’t seem to let go. They’re the kind who harbour a strong aversion to delegating work. 

It’s one of the most sure-fire ways to kill employee engagement, sow seeds of mistrust, and stifle innovation. Teams led by micromanagers often end up with sub-par critical thinking skills; having so little room to manoeuvre breeds over-dependency on spoon-feeding. Eventually, it also hurts performance; people who are neither satisfied nor motivated at work because of a micromanaging boss are less likely to push themselves to the limit. 


Despite all this, why do bosses still insist on micromanaging? Developing an appropriate coping strategy to stay sane when your boss is a micromanager requires you first to understand why they do what they do. Here’s how you can start. 

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1. Anxiety & apprehension

Fear and apprehension are probably the most common motives for micromanagement. Often, bosses who can’t let go in this way aren’t intentionally trying to make their employees’ lives difficult. Instead, they may perceive themselves as helpful, hands-on leaders who are providing as much guidance as possible to their people. 


At the root of this self-perception, though, is the fact that they doubt their employees’ ability to perform. Because of these doubts, they utilise their authority to exercise excessive control over employees’ work, regardless of whether those doubts are well-founded or not. 


2. Not knowing what they don’t know 

When coupled with an overestimation of one’s knowledge, ignorance is especially deadly. It’s a psychological phenomenon described by the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”. People who have relatively less knowledge in a particular field are much more likely to think they know everything about it. 


The resulting over-confidence makes them feel justified in over-exerting their managerial authority at work. In reality, though, their interference is only adding unnecessary complications (and probably causing more than a few eye-rolls.)

Conversely, those who are aware that they’re less well-versed in particular fields are often much more willing to let the right people take charge. After all, you can’t know everything about everyone everywhere all the time—even if you’re Steve Jobs. He once famously said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” 


3. Feeling powerless

On the other hand, knowing what you don’t know can sometimes make you feel comparatively irrelevant and even powerless. Newly minted managers, in particular, tend to be very susceptible to feeling out of their depth. 


More often than not, they earn promotions based on proven operational prowess. A managerial position, though, calls for more than this; on top of the ability to execute, it necessitates strategic thinking. Additionally, it also often takes one off the ground, and into the proverbial ivory tower of knowledge work. 

All this lack of familiarity may drive a new manager into resting once more on what he knows, which is what, to him, got him promoted. Hence, he micromanages, even to his own detriment sometimes. 


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