Women Supervisors: The Danger of Micromanaging

Lately, I’ve started to wonder if women are more likely to be ineffective managers than men. I think, after mulling it over for a few days, that women (who we already know have to work harder to get into positions of power) might have perfectionist complexes that go past the objective and into the subjective, which might make them difficult to work under.

For example, I have a friend who has been complaining to me about his boss (a woman). He says that she likes to be kept “in the loop” on everything he does, including minor emails, and that she will often correct him in front of others or send clarifying emails following his emails that mostly say the same thing he said but in different words. (i.e. he’ll send out an email that says “We’re meeting in the conference room at 10. Please bring your case materials” and she’ll send an email that says “Just to clarify, all the members of the team will be meeting. Please bring your drafts of the memo.”) He can’t stand his boss. At first, I thought he was just chafing to work under a woman or that, if anything, this particular woman was a bit of a micromanager.

I had the issue in my head though, so I started noticing things around my own office. Last week, I had to get a few documents approved by one of my female supervisors, and she made me go back and forth with several minor, subjective changes (i.e. I wrote “individuals” and she wanted “people”). I thought of my friend and started to wonder whether female supervisors feel the need to vouch more for their employees than male supervisors, which then leads to a painful degree of micromanagement. In my case, the document was not that important, and I was actually signing my name to it, so my supervisor wasn’t publicly linked to it at all. Why, then, the need to have me make several superficial wording changes?

I don’t want to say that all women are like this as managers, but I though it was worth blogging about because as a woman who hopes to someday work my way up to a position where I’m managing others, I have committed this experience to memory. I know now that if I want to be effective at managing people (men and women), I need to learn, at some point, how to leave my subjective perfectionism--about things that aren’t wrong but which I would prefer to see changed to the way I myself would have done them—at the door. I think successful supervisors are able to foster growth in their employees by developing the employee’s particular style, and I fear that as a woman, my own fierce pride in getting into that supervisor’s chair or my need to assert myself to know that I’m taken seriously or my certainty that my way is the only right way will prevent me from being a great manager of subordinates. I’m not sure that this issue is a gender issue though. I’d be curious to hear about other people’s experiences.



I think this may be an instance in which we are not well served by anecdotal evidence. I've worked for men who were incredibly controlling, and I've worked for women who were deferential. To me supervisory style is not so easily attributable to gender.
It also occurrs to me that there may be more than one definition of effective supervision.  I think many supervisees would like to think that a good supervisor is one who nurtures them, in effect producing both a particular product and better workers. But this definition may not be universally accepted.
I think there may be supervisors who's primary concern is the work itself. It's not hard to imagine thinking that you can do a better job than those less qualified and experienced than you. And if your priority is only the product and not the experience of those working with you, then micromanaging may seem justified - especially in cases where the final product will be presented under the supervisor's name as opposed to yours?
There's another possible perspective: maybe they are micromanaging because they're trying to teach you to be just like them and they think by doing so they are helping you. Not all subjective details are created equal - style does matter to many people. So maybe the nitpicky corrections are a kind of mentorship? You may not be receptive to it (and that streak of independent thought is probably what marks you for management someday, right?), but that doesn't mean they don't impact your work product in a positive way.


Consider this: If my supervisor assigns a task to me, I would like to think it is because of my experience, education, skill, and knowledge of the subject.  If these are (and they should be) the reasons for the assignment, then let me do the job.  I do not need to be questioned about technique and style at every turn.  If the end product requires style or theme changes then the task was not presented clearly.  The supervisor should avoid micromanaging before it begins by clearly conveying a blueprint of what the finished product should look like.  Very few people will accomplish a task the same exact way.  If subordinates are forced to mirror the supervisor’s style the task might be better served if it was done by the supervisor in the first place. When the supervisor does not have a clear understanding of what the end product should look like or contain, how can we expect the subordinate to ever provide satisfactory results? Constant  criticism or interference with the progress of the task by insisting on minor insignificant changes only serves to instill a feeling of futility and will to shut down initiative and extra effort on the part of subordinates. If continued long enough throughout the organization, productivity and individuality will decline. Resentment and suppressed anger will build which will eat at the organization like a cancer. And as often happens in this situation, a complete breakdown of the unit usually results.

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