How to stay on track if your boss is a macromanager

The polar opposite of the meddling micromanager, this laissez-faire supervisor can be equally maddening. Here’s advice about the care and feeding of this workplace phantom.


No one wants to work for a micromanager.

Micromanagers are control freaks, always breathing down their employees’ necks, telling them how to do everything and inspecting every move they make.

Working for a micromanaging boss is one of the most frequently reported reasons that employees hate their jobs or hate their bosses.

Employees who work for micromanagers probably wish their bosses would just disappear. They dream about being totally boss-less, going about their work in a state of empowered nirvana.

Well, be careful what you wish for.

Whereas a micromanager anchors the extreme end of the management style continuum (high control), sitting at the far other end of the continuum is the macromanager (laissez-faire).

Working for a macromanager has its own challenges. A micromanager is always there when you don’t need them to be there; a macromanager is never around when you have a question, require support or need to have a decision made.

Macromanagers have a laissez-faire style that assumes all employees are completely competent, self-licking ice cream cones needing no support, feedback, recognition, coaching or direction.

A macromanagement style may be appropriate when managing experienced, high-performing self-starters, but even these employees need a little attention now and then.

They really get themselves into trouble when they try to apply their hands-off management approach to new employees who need initial direction and support or, worse, to underperforming employees who need a strong kick in the behind.

So, are you lucky or unlucky enough to work for a macromanager? I have been. If you are, here are a few tips:

1. Set up monthly meetings. Although your macromanager may initially resist this intrusion, insist on it. Take the initiative to schedule them yourself. Explain to the macromanager how it is for his own benefit to stay informed on what you’re doing in case his own micromanager boss asks for details.

2. Send regular email updates. Keep them high level and brief. Develop a few important metrics for your area of responsibility, and report on those. Make your manager aware of key accomplishments, and give her a heads-up about any potential problems that she might soon hear about.

3. Establish measurable goals, and manage to them. Create your own goals and development plan, and establish follow-though mechanisms to keep yourself on track.

4. Take care of yourself and your team. Celebrate your own success and the success of your team. Seek feedback from trusted mentors, peers, your employees and others. Hire a coach if you can.

5. Keep an eye on the big picture. Don’t lose sight of your organization’s broader mission and goals. Without a manager providing this perspective, you’ll have to look for other sources to stay abreast.

6. Learn to manage your peers. Given that macromanagers are never around to confront underperformers, you’ll need to have these crucial conversations yourself. You’ll also want to provide support and recognition to your peers; if you do, you’ll receive the same in return.

7. Have realistic expectations and accept what is. Don’t get all frustrated that your manager doesn’t give you regular feedback, recognition or respond to your emails. Learn to look for and appreciate the strengths that your manager does bring to the table, and don’t expect pigs to fly.

Last, but not least, count your blessings that you don’t work for a micromanager.

Dan McCarthy is the director of Executive Development Programs at the University of New Hampshire and runs the Management & Leadership channel of About.com. He also writes the award-winning leadership development blog, Great Leadership. A version of this article first appeared on SmartBlog on Leadership.

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