Leaders Who Micro-Manage are Over-Functioning

Apr 26, 2021

Nobody likes to be micro-managed. Yet nearly all of us have felt the intense pressure of a manager who was too involved in the minutiae of our daily work lives. There are many reasons why leaders micro-manage. In some cases, a hands-on approach actually has benefits, according to this BBC article by Sydney Finkelstein.

Why Do Leaders Micro-Manage?

Leaders micro-manage because they have concerns that employees will make a mistake or can’t do the job properly. This is true with new employees or when a new policy or system is introduced. It makes sense for leaders to stay involved with day-to-day operations while employees are learning.

Yet some leaders have a hard time pulling away after the initial learning curve. Or they simply can’t accept a way of accomplishing a task that’s different than their own way. What’s going on with that? It might be that the manager is “over-functioning.”

Why Leaders Who Micro-Management Might Be Over-Functioning

I first learned the term “over-functioning” from Shelley Row, the author of Think Less, Live More: Lessons from a Recovering Over-Thinker. It’s a term that’s often used to discuss relationship dynamics in families. (You can see an excellent overview of the terms over- and under-functioning here.) In the business world, we often call leaders who over-function “micromanagers.”

Because micromanagement has such a negative connection, I was intrigued by the idea of over-functioning because it has a more neutral sound to it. In Row’s definition, one person in a relationship “over functions” by assuming too much responsibility and the other person therefore assumes less responsibility and “under-functions.” In a management context, leaders over-function because they perceive that their team member(s) are not able or responsible enough without the leader’s assistance or intervention.

According to Row, a former transportation executive, “Over-functioning happens all the time, because [at work] we are constantly in systems with other people. If you don’t clearly understand where your responsibility ends and others’ begins, it is very easy to cross over into someone else’s responsibility. It’s possible for [leaders] to take over a role that was not theirs to take over.”

6 Clues You Might Be Over-Functioning

How do you know if a leader is over-functioning? Here are six clues to consider. If a leader:

  1. Gives advice when none has been requested.

  2. Makes corrections to procedures that are different than theirs, yet still within company guidelines.

  3. Worries excessively about how employees will react.

  4. Avoids taking necessary action because he or she thinks it will upset an employee.

  5. Steps in to “help” when it wasn’t requested, then is upset when people seem “ungrateful.”

  6. Rushes in to “fix” things at the first sign of trouble.

He or she is “over-functioning.”

Am I a Micro-Manager?

Are you doing too much for your staff? It’s possible. Take a look at the six questions above. If any of these sound familiar, it’s time to take a step back and decide: am I taking on too much of the responsibility for this situation?

If you agree that you have overstepped your boundaries, then practice saying these words the next time you’re tempted to rush in to direct, fix, or make a change: “My team members have this handled. I am here if they need assistance, and that is all I need to do for now.”

By Jennifer V. Miller