Being Micromanaged? How to Cope

Here are 7 tips for handling an overbearing boss.

August 15, 2017

If there’s one type of supervisor young CPAs and other professionals dread, it’s the micromanager: the overly controlling supervisor who checks in frequently, requires to be copied on most emails, constantly returns work for correction, and, basically, lacks trust in his or her direct reports.

Many employees have felt the effects of a supervisor whose management style is more overbearing than collaborative. However, the accounting profession lends itself to scrupulous management. CPAs value accuracy out of necessity, and accounting supervisors’ own reputations can suffer if employees make mistakes.

“We’re trained as service professionals to deliver on time and on budget while maintaining a high level of technical accuracy and at our firm’s strict quality control standards,” acknowledged Dave Finklang, CPA, CGMA, senior tax manager at Anders CPAs + Advisors in St. Louis, and a graduate of the 2013 AICPA Leadership Academy. “And a CPA manager wants to make sure the associate is adhering to the firm’s client service guidelines and expectations in all of these areas.” Exacting managers can also provide necessary oversight to young workers who need extra help, and offer useful feedback.

But when careful management crosses the line into micromanagement, it can cause discord within firms or companies. Micromanagers can generate resentment and unhappiness, deplete employee morale, and stifle productivity, creativity, and ideas. Sometimes these managers fail to offer clear expectations or training to workers to ensure they can handle the projects at hand. Employees in turn spend more time “pacifying the micromanager versus actually doing great work,” said Melissa Llarena, an international career coach and founder and CEO of Career Outcomes Matter LLC, headquartered in the New York City area. Some CPAs may leave their organization if they cannot face the micromanager any longer.

If your supervisor tends to micromanage, what can you do about it? Finklang, Llarena, and others offer the following tips:

Build trust early. When starting a new job or project, sit down with your manager and discuss expectations, frequency of updates, communication styles (does he or she prefer to be contacted via email, phone, or in person?), and deliverables. “Say, ‘How would you like us to partner and how can we work together so we can get the best outcomes for the team overall?’” Llarena advised.
Be proactive. Especially early in your career, take initiative and keep your supervisor posted on your progress without prompting, and with a frequency that he or she endorses. “That will prove to the manager that you are proactive and staying on top of the project,” Finklang said.

Don’t set the bar too high, though; if you check in too often your supervisor may come to expect it, noted Tara Goodfellow, founder of Athena Consultants Inc., in Charlotte, N.C. “And you have to determine if you have the time for that many updates,” she said.

Use tact. You may need a sounding board, but “be cautious when venting to your co-workers” about your micromanaging boss, Goodfellow said. Too much watercooler chatter could get back to your supervisor, creating even more scrutiny. Instead, talk to your mentor or a colleague you trust in confidence.

Talk to your supervisor. Your manager may not realize that his or her level of scrutiny is too intense, so don’t be afraid to discuss how you feel. “True growth comes from an open and trusting culture within the firm or the workplace in general,” said Brent Forbush, CPA, CGMA, director at Forbush and Associates in Reno, Nev., and a graduate of the 2016 AICPA Leadership Academy.

Request feedback. While communication is key, so is respect. Be diplomatic in expressing your concerns. Say, for example, “The last project came back with a lot of criticism. What level of detail do you need for this and what information can I provide?” Goodfellow advised. “How you phrase it is huge.”

Assess yourself. While it’s easy to blame the supervisor for scrutinizing, your boss may have good reason for doubt. Were you late on previous projects? Do you procrastinate? Are you disorganized? Have you made numerous errors?

“Self-awareness is definitely critical,” Llarena said. “If you are being micromanaged, you may want to take a little bit of your own audit.”

In addition, Goodfellow said, “Usually there is an element of truth from the micromanager, who is so in tune with every detail.” Finally, observe your colleagues to see if they are also being micromanaged. If they are not, the problem may be you—not your supervisor.

Take initiative to improve. Consider taking courses on your own via local or regional organizations, to bolster your soft skills.

“Be willing to sacrifice your own time to participate in those programs so that you can accelerate your growth,” Forbush said. By doing this along with the other noted steps above, you can likely establish a better working relationship with your manager.

Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer. To comment on this article, email senior editor Courtney Vien.

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