Pride in Micromanagement? The Interview Mistake Too Many Leaders Make
When a job candidate is asked to name a flaw or weakness, this stock response makes just about any interviewer cringe. It's the careerist's version of humble bragging. The candidate who cites this "weakness" is often just intimating that he or she is detail-oriented and possesses a strong work ethic. In reality, however, such an answer can ring alarm bells. If you say you're a perfectionist, are you actually admitting that you spend an excessive amount of time obsessing over a project's minute details and, in doing so, create unnecessary delays?
Candidates applying for leadership positions sometimes confess a slightly different flaw — and it's one that, for hiring managers, should raise just as many red flags as the "perfectionist" answer. They call themselves micromanagers.
The "micromanager" response often comes after candidates are asked how their own teams would describe them. In my experience, candidates are usually savvy enough to realize that they shouldn't list only positive traits. So some settle on a negative characteristic that they believe isn't really that bad. As self-professed micromanagers, they may think they're telegraphing that they expend a commendable amount of effort managing their employees to ensure work products meet their standards.
But from my perspective, here is what they're actually admitting: They have trouble delegating. They are distrustful of their own employees. They lack communication skills and, similar to perfectionists, they are slower to accomplish goals. With a micromanager gumming up the works, it's hard for even the most competent teams to work efficiently. In a 2014 survey1 by the staffing firm Accountemps, victims of micromanagement said that their bosses' constant monitoring and meddling hurt their productivity and decreased employee morale. Micromanagement may also affect employee health in extreme ways: A study2 released last year by Indiana University's Kelley School of Business found that employees with "low-control" jobs — jobs where their superiors left them with little discretion in managing their own work — were likely to die at earlier ages than those with "high-control" positions.
Being a micromanager should not be a point of pride for job seekers, especially those in the market for leadership positions.
Micromanagement isn't just bad management; it's a disease, according to Richard D. White, the dean of the E. J. Ourso College of Business at Louisiana State University. Writing in the journal Public Personnel Management3, White compared severe micromanagement to alcoholism. "Micromanagers, like many addicts and alcoholics, are the last people to recognize that they are hooked on controlling others," he said. Micromanagers, he added, exploit people, "preferring to control results rather than inspiring creativity." Driving their behavior is the fact that they're "fundamentally insecure." Does this sound like the type of person you'd want working in your office?
The bottom line is that being a micromanager shouldn't be a point of pride for job seekers, especially those in the market for leadership positions. And if a candidate admits to micromanaging, he should also be prepared to explain how he is working on improving his management style, rather than trying to justify why he is falling short. The same is true of any other gap in a candidate's skill set. When hiring managers ask questions like "What's your greatest weakness?" or "How would your team describe you?", we want honest answers, but we also want candidates to show that they're taking initiative to better themselves, to hone their leadership abilities and to work for the greater good of a company. Nobody is perfect, but recognizing that is a start.
1. Accountemps, "Survey: More Than Half of Employees Have Worked for a Micromanager." http://accountemps.rhi.mediaroom.com/2014-07-01-Survey-More-Than-Half-of-Employees-Have-Worked-for-a-Micromanager
2. Gonzalez-Mulé, E. and Cockburn, B. (2017), Worked to Death: The Relationships of Job Demands and Job Control with Mortality. Personnel Psychology, 70: 73–112. doi:10.1111/peps.12206
3. White, Richard D. (March 1, 2010), The Micromanagement Disease: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Cure. Public Personnel Management. Vol. 39, Issue 1, pp. 71-76. doi:
Amy Armstrong is senior vice president and global head of talent development and employee relations at State Street. She also serves as a member of the global human resources leadership team and operating group. She is currently reading “The Glass Castle” and just finished “Big Little Lies”.