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Radhika Panjwani is a former journalist from Toronto and a blogger.

People don’t leave companies; they leave toxic and controlling supervisors.

Micromanaging, a counterproductive process in business, is when a supervisor closely monitors and controls the work of their subordinates. It undermines effective management and has become more prevalent in some organizational settings today.

It’s particularly evident now in workplaces that have shifted heavily in favour of remote working, says Elena Antonacopoulou, professor of organizational behaviour and strategy at Ivey Business School in London, Ont. Many micromanagers, who thrive on control, have felt disadvantaged in our new virtual workplaces and, as a result, some have intensified their intrusive approach.

In its milder version, micromanagement may include a supervisor giving an employee an unrealistic and unachievable deadline. In its more insidious state, it’s a form of abuse, says Prof. Antonacopoulou.

“There’s a fundamental absence of leadership capabilities in micromanagers,” Prof. Antonacopoulou says. “Basically, they know they can’t inspire people. They are insecure and derive a sense of self-importance by undermining others’ work in ways that makes them feel better.”

The paradox with micromanagement is that, on one hand, it’s a process that ineffective managers resort to in the absence of any discernible leadership qualities. But there are also instances where a leader’s actions may be misconstrued, especially when they’re elevating and aspiring their employees to excellence, she says.

Steve Jobs: Genius or a bully?

Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple was a tech genius and a visionary. However, people who worked closely with him remember him as an autocrat and a micromanager, with a penchant for firing anyone that disagreed with him.

Mr. Jobs could have exacted the same level of performance from his employees, or even higher, if he had better leadership skills, says David Zweig, an associate professor of organizational behaviour management at University of Toronto Scarborough and Rotman School of Management.

“Leaders should lead, and not manage,” says Mr. Zweig. “Attention to details may have got someone into the leadership position. In fact, it can be considered a strong personality trait but the challenge is once we’re there, we have to move away from micromanagement and be more strategic.”

The survey

In 2019, recruitment firm Robert Half Canada surveyed 400 people working in office environments across the country. Results showed about two in five professionals surveyed in Canada (39 per cent) have quit a job because of a bad boss.

“This may be because some bosses have reached a position that exceeds their ability as leaders (they may not have been properly trained into management) or because they put their own interests ahead of the team, fail to encourage growth and development, and create more problems than they resolve,” writes Deborah Bottineau, the firm’s district director, in an e-mail.

“This data isn’t surprising as we often hear that people leave managers, not companies.”

The working relationship employees have with their supervisors is critical. A bad manager can effectively destroy the culture of the organization, she says, adding companies should boost staff leadership skills by offering management training and regularly gathering feedback on supervisors.

Coping strategy

Mr. Zweig’s advice to employees stuck with a micromanager is that they should start by having a frank discussion with their supervisor and present evidence, like performance reviews and other successes, to show how their micromanagement is unnecessary. But he warns, how your boss reacts during the chat may be key. It might mean some employees have no choice but to consider getting another job.

“We can’t change toxic managers,” he says. “Some people are just bad leaders.”

What I’m reading around the web

Collaboration is great, but most people are too eager to say “Yes,” and burn up their time, says Rob Cross in this blog in idea.ted.com. He spells out nine beliefs that may be sabotaging our energy. He says the first step is to recognize the desires and expectations that lead to our overcommitment.

According to Wired, tech behemoth Google has reduced the pay of employees who have told the company they want to work from home permanently. One employee said the pay losses amount to losing four years of salary increases.

This article in CNBC.com says if you want to rise up the ranks, you shouldn’t use certain words. For instance, avoid saying, “Does that make sense?” A better alternative would be, “I’d like your input.” The article lists 11 words or phrases that signal a lack of assertiveness, and confidence.

In this article for BBC News, Laura Paddison discusses how the fashion industry, responsible for generating 2 per cent to 10 per cent of global emissions, will need to change to fight the climate crisis.


More from Globe Careers

Shift from being a victim to a hero Robin Sharma, the bestselling author of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, has written a new book called The Everyday Hero Manifesto. In it, he gives five steps to move from a victim to hero mindset and live your best life.

I resigned from my last job and it ended poorly. How do I explain this to prospective employers when they ask for a reference? In this week’s Nine to Five advice column, a reader asks how to respond when prospective employers ask why they can’t give a reference from a company.

Leadership Lab is a series where executives, experts and writers share their views and advice about the world of work. You can find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.

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