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Controlling Management is Bad Management

When we’re doing an assessment of a client, one of the first things we have to do is figure out what their processes are and whether there are ways of improving them or turning them into something repeatable that we can automate.  

Part of that is talking to the people who actually do the job. We want to understand, from their point of view, what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and what they like and don’t like about it. But first, we get management’s idea of what they should be doing and why to see whether management’s concept of what needs to be done meshes with that of the people actually doing it. 

More often than not, it doesn’t, and here’s where I want to dig into the reality of enterprises with excessively controlling management.  

In one specific case, I encountered a manager who hired me and let me talk to his people. After I’d talked to each one of them and mentioned what they were doing, he basically told me that every single person working for him sucked and had been doing their job wrong for forever.  

Now, keep in mind that this person was also my liaison with the company I was trying to do business with, and he would not give me the time of day because he was always too busy. This particular manager also had the habit of hoarding information. Oftentimes, managers with a controlling habit think they’re being very clear about what their expectations are to their people, but that is almost never the case.  

Within this company, I got the strong feeling from my conversations with the people that expectations were not being clearly communicated. And actually, one or two of them told me outright that the issue was that their manager was controlling the message, how they interacted with each other, and how information was communicated (or not communicated) to management or business partners at any given moment.  

The repeated example I was given was how they were directed to take meeting minutes, which would take hours to clean up because they were trying to get rid of anything that was “offensive” or might raise an eyebrow. After a certain point, those aren’t meeting minutes anymore – meeting minutes are supposed to be a simple recounting of the talking points of a meeting, what points were agreed upon, and what action items came out of the meeting with due dates assigned. There’s no need to spend so much time and involve so many people on one set of meeting minutes before they go out. That’s ridiculous.

It just so happened that, immediately after I met with each of these people, I was told I couldn’t meet with them anymore. That was very problematic.  

It’s hard for me to tell what’s going on in an organization if I can’t: 

A) Talk to people 


B) Talk to management about what they think should be going on. 

The executive administrator who basically ran the show told me, “I feel like my manager needs everything to be “perfect” in his mind, and this is one of those cases where the pursuit of one person’s “perfection” is crippling the department. Everything that we’re doing is just going over the top trying to make sure no one is “unhappy” rather than focusing on the important work that needs to get done.”

This leads me into one of the biggest dangers of unhealthy, overly controlling management.

Everyone I talked to who worked under this manager was miserable. On top of everything else, this was during COVID so everyone was working remotely. The pandemic was adding to the pressure they felt on a normal day.

These people were going stir crazy, and the controlling management style, in addition to everything else, was making their jobs unbearable. 

Now, there were lots of people working in this department who were super dedicated to the work they were doing and the mission they supported. They weren’t really willing to leave, but at the same time they were miserable.

Another of the main dangers of controlling management habits is that you’re not giving your people agency and you’re not letting them do what they’re good at. You’re constantly telling them, “What you just put together is not quite right. Go fix it.” They start to lose faith in themselves and the product that they produce. Ultimately, that kills their motivation. 

Having an unmotivated, unappreciated workforce is bad no matter what line of work youre in, and it leads to poor results in whatever technical transformation youre trying to implement.

If you micromanage your people and they don’t feel confident documenting their processes because they feel like you’re going to continually put down their documentation, it’s really hard to figure out what they’re doing on a regular basis and what can be made repeatable with software. Remember, software is intended to make their lives easier and free them up to do better work. 

The controlling management in this case and the micromanagers I’ve seen everywhere all share the common trait of fear. They’re afraid that the people under them are going to somehow reflect badly on them, rather than letting their people shine and show that they’re a good leader. 

Micromanagers try to control absolutely everything that their people are doing. And ultimately, working under controlling management is like being in a bad relationship, right? It’s like a toxic relationship where one partner is trying to control every movement of the other as well as how people view them from the outside. It’s just bad, and it ends up being a soul-crushing thing that keeps one from wanting to do one’s job to the best of their ability. 

Controlling management styles are super deleterious to your people, and they don’t lead to optimal work or the ability to make that work even more optimized and scalable. In fact, all micromanagement is the enemy of transformation. 

Love, Tim


P.S. – Ready to get your people motivated and working together effectively? Get in touch with us.