“The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done,” Theodore Roosevelt once observed, “and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” Unfortunately, many managers have not heeded TR's century-old advice to practice self restraint, but instead needlessly over-manage, over-scrutinize, and over-frustrate employees. Such meddlesome bosses now are called micromanagers.
A micromanager can be much more than just a nuisance in today's complex organization. The bothersome boss who second guesses every decision a subordinate makes, frets about the font size of the latest progress report, or inspects all of his employees emails not only frustrates and demoralizes his harassed workers, but seriously damages the productivity of the organization and, over the long run, may jeopardize the organization's survival. Unfortunately, micromanagement is a fact of management life. Why do so many people hate to be micromanaged, yet so many managers continue to do it? Why have we all worked for micromanagers—but have never been one ourselves? But have we? Maybe the noted management consultant and cartoon icon, Pogo, had it right when he quipped, “We have met the enemy…and he is us.”
Micromanagement now commonly refers to the control of an enterprise in every particular and to the smallest detail, with the effect of obstructing progress and neglecting broader, higher-level policy issues. Micromanagement has been practiced and recognized well before we labeled it as an organizational pathology. In 1946, Peter Drucker called for a “democracy of management” whereby organizations need to decentralize and delegate more decision making authority to employees. In 1960, Douglas McGregor described a Theory X manager as one possessing many of the characteristics of the modern micromanager, one who is poor at proper delegating but one who believes he delegates well. While micromanagement has always disrupted organizational life, it only recently has entered the workplace vocabulary, with the first mention of the term appearing in 1975 in an article in the Economist. Since then, increasing concern has been focused on the impact of picayune bosses.