01/27/2012 11:46 am ET Updated Mar 28, 2012

What to Do When Your Boss Is a Micromanager

Why is it that so many new managers (i.e., three years or less) tend to micromanage? -- Supervisor (GS-14), Department of Health and Human Services.

While it's unfair to paint all young supervisors as micromanagers, it's a fairly common trait among new federal leaders for at least three reasons.

First, new supervisors are often promoted as a result of their exceptional performance doing the job of the people they're now supervising. We tend to do what we know best, and so it's natural for new supervisors to continue doing their job -- and maybe your job, too. A new supervisor could also be getting to know his or her new employees and, as such, will tend to provide more direction than less when initiating a project with their new team.

Micromanagement can also result from a new manager's team needing a higher level of direction and not being aware of this situation. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the transition, the previous supervisor may have become relaxed in providing feedback and, as a result, the team might have grown accustomed to relatively less supervision when in fact more guidance is needed.

After considering the possible reasons for micromanagement, the question to ask yourself is "What can I do about the situation?"

If you're the new supervisor and you're concerned that you may be micromanaging your team, congratulations! Admitting that you have a problem is always the first step to changing your behavior. Next, consider your personal reasons for micromanaging. Are you simply clinging to your old job? Are you, in fact, trying to get to know your folks? Or, do feel that they need regular counsel?

Once you're comfortable with diagnosing the reasons behind your management approach, it's best to have some one-on-one conversations with your supervisor and team members. It's likely that your supervisor has been through this same transition and can offer some great insights into how to become a more flexible supervisor.

After talking with each member on your team individually, you can then reassess whether you need a lighter management touch more generally, or whether you need a varying approach for each team member. Whatever your approach, it's important to develop a plan of action. To the extent that your plans are appropriate for the whole team, call a team meeting and set new expectations. If the outcome is more variable, have a concrete conversation with each team member to ensure that your shared expectations are completely clear.

Now, the response to the question, "What do I do about the situation?" is more complex if you're the one being supervised. The good news, however, is that the new year is a great time to have a conversation with your supervisor about expectations and plans for 2012, even if you already set your formal performance plan at the end of last year.

Within this context, it should be easier to share with your supervisor how you would like to take on more responsibility and gain more autonomy over the next year. Then, you can ask your supervisor what it would take to make her feel more comfortable with these new responsibilities. Demonstrating the confidence to initiate this professional conversation will help you show your supervisor that she should trust your abilities to get things done.

Are you a new supervisor who's struggled through the transition to this new role? Perhaps you're an employee who's worked through some micromanagement issues with your supervisor. Whatever your side of the equation you fall on, please share your experiences by posting your comments online or sending me an email.

This post originally appeared on the Washington Post's Federal Coach blog.