There are many things to worry about as a business.

Employees, backend admin, day-to-day happenings, connecting with other companies in your space… oh, and I guess the clients.

So when it comes to building your team, the last thing you want to have is an employee in any role performing poorly.

But even worse than that?

Someone in a leadership position who hinders anyone else from performing well, too.

Stressed office worker painting
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Meet: The Intermittent Micromanager

We all think micromanagement is the worst thing to deal with when we’re working under someone.

But on the flip side, you don’t want a boss who’s completely disconnected, either.

What happens when you’re somehow faced with a person who does both?

The Intermittent Micromanager.

This sounds like a made-up phrase, because it is. But it’s a very real type of workplace scenario. If you’ve dealt with this before, you’ll recognize this person.

The Intermittent Micromanager, or IM, is the person who runs meetings like any other boss/leadership role would.

They push employees to report the information they need.  They guide the team in seeing how each person’s part affects the big picture. They remind the group to reach out for support whenever it’s needed.

And then they disappear for the rest of the week. You don’t hear from them.

You get excited, because you’ve been given some tasks within your role to complete, so you get to work and get ready to present your progress on the due date.

You reach out to said manager when you hit a snag, and are given the green light to make the call you deem best in the situation.  So you do just that and carry on with the project.

When presentation time comes, you’re slammed with a million questions from the manager – who was radio silent up until now – with the ultimate conclusion being that your methodology was entirely wrong and the outcome is not what the team needed to do at all.

Sound familiar?

Congratulations. You’ve been dealing with an Intermittent Micromanager.

non communicating employees
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

How Intermittent Micromanagement affects your business

Each company will behave differently under leadership like this.

It’s easier to pinpoint how a team will react to a distant leader or a micromanager than it is to predict how a team might react to someone who literally does both.

With a distant leader, teams tend toward anarchy & ultimately self-regulation… for better or worse.

If someone is a micromanager, the team feels decreased satisfaction with their work & probably eventually loses most of its members to places that offer more creative freedom.

But if they’re both?

The team is constantly thrown into a cycle of feeling empowered to make its own decisions, get creative, have some autonomy… just to have anything they bring forward crushed and picked apart until there’s nothing left but resentment.

And that might just be the worst scenario of all.

One can only handle so many ups and downs of this cycle before completely shutting off any emotions they had toward doing a good job or performing well.

In order to preserve their sanity, the employees being advised by this Intermittent Micromanager will begin to become sour to their role.

Good, high-performing people who were once passionate about your brand and their role within it will become complacent and stop bringing their input forward.

You know, that input that you probably originally hired them for.

This leads your company down a road of thinking only according to the IM’s “guidance,” because any other creativity is hushed.  That is, if anyone even wants to present their ideas anymore.

You lose the diversity of opinion and perspective that is the major benefit of building a team.

You’re left with people who no longer want to work for you and who are feeling beaten down like abused children who just want their parents to say “I love you” once.

intermittent micromanager meeting
Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

If you’re the owner: figure out if this is the problem at your company

If you’re above the “food chain,” so to speak, of wherever the IM of your company resides – it might be hard to tell that you have this problem.

But there are a few things you can do to figure out whether this might be the real reason your team is under-performing.

Ask the employees

Seems easy enough, but this is actually probably the hardest way to go about it.

The last thing you want to do is breed further hostility or ask the employees to tattle on a superior – especially if its just genuinely a personality clash, you might cause more fires to start than were ever there, to begin with.

You might also get no response or fake positivity from your employees because they’re probably not going to trust anyone above them to be on “their side.” They’ll be suspicious that you’re just looking out for the IM, so they’ll just grin and bear it no matter how many questions you ask.

Listen in on meetings to see whose ideas usually “win out” in the end

You’re the business owner, so of course, you don’t have to be at every meeting. But you’re also allowed to be at any of them.

Why not pay a visit every now and again to make sure things are running smoothly?

Of course, the IM will likely be on their best behavior when you do it… but you can still sense the tension of a room filled with people resistant to their “leader.”

Listen to how discussions go. Find out if the IM isn’t letting anyone else’s ideas be taken seriously, or if he’s just giving them fake credibility.

If you sit in on several meetings and notice a trend that the IM’s ideas are the only ones that ever make it out of the meeting to be put into action, you could be onto something.

The next sign to look for is at the project presentations, end-of-week meetings, etc.

If the suspected IM never seems satisfied with the outcome, or always seems to question the project manager’s tactics and advice… that’s another sign you’ve got an IM hanging around.

Do team specialists seem guilty until proven innocent?

You can pay attention to this in and out of meetings.

In meetings, the IM will likely present a broad idea and ask a particular specialist to comment their opinion on how their role would help that idea.

The IM will then question every facet of what the specialist just explained, despite the specialist’s attempts to convey why their method works, even though the IM only knows the broad strokes how of that particular branch operates.

The IM questions the specialist’s intentions and finishes by presenting their idea or method for getting the task done. The specialist will likely push back, with a sound reason behind their argument – only for the IM to end the conversation determining that his plan is still best.

The IM acts as if they want the specialist’s advice and then turns on them to come up with a different idea… almost as if to prove that the IM knows more overall (which they don’t).

Outside of meetings, you’ll notice your team members and specialists generally flailing around to get anything done.

There’s a lot of extra time spent trying to “get things in order” or calling extra meetings “to clarify what is needed.”

This leads to incredibly long lists of wasted hours and no work to show for them. Not to mention, it really doesn’t feel like a “team” anymore.

Does the suspected Intermittent Micromanager ask odd questions?

Since you’re sitting in on meetings already, listen to the types of questions the IM asks the team.

Does he seem out of touch with key details he should already be aware of since these projects are the things he’s “leading?”

Do the employees spend most of the meeting time filling in the IM about what they’ve been up to, only to be probed and questioned during the entire meeting… you see where this is going.

What is the general mood of the rest of the team?

If it seems that your team is never quite in a good mood, or excited about a new project, or just typically bland about being at work, then something isn’t right about the company culture.

This could be a sign of numerous things but pay attention as roles move around in the company. The team attitude will take a severe plunge after a new role is filled. In this case, you might have an IM… or at the very least, some kind of poor leadership.

unhappy employee
Photo by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash

If you’re an employee: figure out if this is why you hate your job

By now, you probably already know whether this is your situation or not.

If your boss leaves you feeling:

  • Empowered initially but drained long-term
  • As if you’re “failing” every task that’s been given to you
  • Like you’re not really the specialist you know yourself to be
  • As though nothing ever really gets accomplished in your department
  • Broken down to a point that you just completely detach from the company emotionally

…then you might be dealing with an IM.

First: check in with people on your level to see how they’re feeling about work. You’ll probably find someone else who’s dissatisfied and too scared to mention it.

Don’t give them details about why you’re unhappy. Instead, see if they’ll talk to you about the issues they’re having first.

If that suspected IM is the through line, you could be onto something.

Next – it sounds crazy, and I know it’s rough – but talk to your boss’ boss about it, if that’s the case.

Especially if you’re in a smaller company, with direct access to company owners or executives… they’re going to want to know why the team is under-performing.  And it’s hard for them to see from your angle what’s happening.

Most people work for a company because they at least care somewhat about it.  So come at it from that angle: “look, I’m not doing my best here anymore because of this situation…” and remind them that you care about the company.

That’s the only way you’ll be able to share this information without sounding whiney or like a tattle-tale (because clearly, we’re still 5 around here).

Intermittent Micromanaging is unacceptable.

So if you’re dealing with an IM, or suspect your company has employed one, address it.

The person likely doesn’t even know they’re behaving in this way.

If they’re willing to work on their leadership style, then they might end up turning the team around to work wonderfully.

And if not, get them out of there ASAP before your company suffers greatly from it.


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