THE BLOG
07/18/2014 05:09 pm ET | Updated Sep 17, 2014

4 Steps to Manage Up When Your Boss Is an Obsessive Micromanager

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Micromanaging can show up in many forms, but most typically in bosses who dictate how employees complete tasks, question employees' judgments, frequently ask for updates, and check in incessantly. While the line between effective involved leadership and micromanaging can be thin -- detail-oriented or obsessive? Constructive or controlling? -- many employees have felt the effects of a manager whose management style is more overbearing than hands-on and collaborative. In his book My Way or the Highway: The Micromanagement Survival Guide, author Harry Chambers reports that 79 percent of those surveyed said they'd been micromanaged at one time or another. A 2003 survey by office products manufacturers FranklinCovey found that employees singled out micromanagement as the most significant barrier to productivity they faced, confirmed by a 2011 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that showed people who believe they are being watched perform at a lower level.

So why do it? Many helicopter bosses feel the need to hover in order to monitor efficiency, or to keep things on track, especially if an employee has erred in the past. But most micromanagers do so out of a need for control that often has more to do with them than the performance of their employees -- perhaps their own feeling of job insecurity or fear of failure. Others simply don't know any better: Maybe they were promoted into a manager role without proper training, or maybe that's how they were managed.

There are steps you can take if you think your boss is a micromanager. First, though, make sure she's not responding to your own weak performance; that is, that you haven't "asked" to be supervised so closely. And find out if there are others who feel the same way. If your boss breathes down everyone's neck, you can be confident that it's not just you.

Do your job well. The first step toward getting a boss to loosen her grip is to remove any possibility from her mind that she needs to be that way. Get to work on time. Meet deadlines. Be productive. Make clients happy. Show her that you're trustworthy, thorough, and on top of your work.

Ask how you're doing. Instead of complaining to your spouse or friends, or getting to a point where you need to quit, gather up courage and speak to the boss. But frame your discussion in a way that makes it clear you want to know how to improve, and not that you're here to criticize his management style. Be positive and respectful. Ask what's expected of you and how you're doing. Offer reassurance that you can do the job without constant supervision.

Be a proactive communicator. Don't wait for your boss to ask you how things are going. Instead, make sure he feels informed and in the loop. Send regular messages with reports and next steps. Consider copying him on important emails to clients or others. This will help reassure him that everything's under control, and eventually his need for the regular reports will diminish.

Teach her how to delegate. Help your hovering boss delegate more effectively by prompting her to give you all the information you need upfront, so that you're not getting bombarded with emails and directives along the way. Set times for check-in meetings. Volunteer to take on additional projects to help her see the need to delegate -- and how you can handle the responsibility. When a job goes well, discuss the process, ask her if she has suggestions for how to improve next time, and thank her for the opportunity -- and the hands-off approach. The next time, she'll remember how well you did without any the constant input.