How Micromanagers can Deflate Your Confidence

“How do you prefer to be managed?” is a common interview question. Generally, it is answered with some variation of, “I prefer to be given autonomy on my projects and not be micromanaged.”

Webster’s online dictionary defines micromanaging as “manage[ment] especially with excessive control or attention on details”. But how do you really know if you are being micromanaged? Especially while in a training position, this perception can be quite subjective. One person might label their PI a micromanager and another could describe that same person as a very available, hands-on supervisor. And what causes micromanagers to feel the need to control every project?

Often micromanagers want to be involved in every aspect of a project because there is an underlying fear that it won’t be done the right way. Or, they may expect people to handle projects and problems exactly as they would, no matter how viable alternative solutions may be. Overtime, a prolonged micromanagement supervisory style can cause an employee to internalize the insecurity that their boss distrusts their work products. Micromanaged employees also often become apathetic and disengaged from their work because they have become conditioned to believe that their ideas aren’t worthy of consideration. They realize their contributions aren’t valued and consequently, their productivity and morale often plummet. This lack of confidence can even bleed over into job interviews as the employee moves on from this group.  The job candidate questions their actions and can’t necessarily see clearly what skills they could contribute. No matter the job or what stage of your career, confidence is a key component of success.

Micromanagement of certain time-sensitive or especially important projects can be rationalized if not overlooked. As a trainee, you can probably surmise that there are other stressors causing your supervisor to put extra stress on your work at that moment. In the world of science, the current funding climate can cause severe financial stressors for PIs as they try to ensure they will have funding for everyone in the research group. It is also worthy of noting that there tends to be a lack of management training as individuals rise in the scientific ranks.

How can you begin rebuilding your confidence and positivity after working for someone you would define as a micromanager? Realize that it might take time, but assess where you are at in the moment. Meeting with a career counselor can help you objectively review your situation and identify new tools for coping — whether that is by starting a job search or finding new ways to manage your work environment.

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