A tale of one manager: Good for projects, bad for personnel

A project-manager-turned-IT-director's need for control and insistence on details stifle employees who want to do their job

A few years ago, I worked for a micromanaging, overbearing boss who wouldn't give his employees room to breathe, let alone do their jobs. He told me to "aim high" with my career goals, but without realizing it, held me back and blocked my path. Working for him made me feel like one of those birds at a zoo perched on a stand for people to look at, with one leg tied to a post to prevent it from flying away. No wonder employees didn't stick with him long.

We'll call this manager "Jack"; he was known to be detailed-oriented. He was also very good at managing a certain program at our company, but absolutely clueless in regard to managing the personnel involved in his projects.

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Maybe the high-level execs figured that knowing how to manage the ins and outs of the technology would magically translate to effectively managing people. That somewhat explains how he was later promoted to the director level where he also oversaw IT operations -- and became my manager.

The job description: Guess what the boss wants

To me micromanagers are by definition obstructionists, and Jack was no exception. He'd get bogged down in details, make employees redo work for no apparent reason, and set inefficient policies. And nobody could tell him anything different. The funny thing was he didn't seem to realize what he was doing.

It didn't take long for employees to get incredibly frustrated. Since Jack wouldn't listen to anyone, people coped by making fun of him behind his back. But he was still the boss, and it was harder by the day to deal with him.

Jack thought of himself as a perfectionist and prided himself on this. For us, it meant that he was a control freak, and you never knew how he'd respond if he didn't have 100 percent authority. At one departmental meeting, a manager who reported to him mentioned that we could change a certain accounting process to better streamline the workflow. But what we viewed as a mere suggestion, Jack seemed to take as an attack on his credibility and yelled at the manager in front of all of us. Suffice it to say, none of us spoke up after that, even after Jack asked everybody if there were any questions or suggestions.

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