The Night of the Deadly Micromanager

By Brian Lucas

Artie, I think we managed to get ourselves in a little trouble!” James West speaking tongue-in-cheek to Artemus Gordon when confronted by arch-villain Miguelito Loveless, a brilliant, but megalomaniacal little person.

In our rushed working environment today, that demands hyper efficiency, there is nothing as deadly to agile as a micromanager.  If every person on the team is not empowered and trusted to perform their function; you cannot be agile.  If you cannot be agile, you cannot deal with the constant and complex changes taking place.  Worse still you cannot compete with those who are.  If you cannot compete, you are dead!  There is no room for micromanaging or micromanagers in today’s agile business environment.

I promised to cover this subject for my good friend Anthony!  Anthony is a remarkably expressive person with a facile and intelligent mind.  He is ready to engage in intelligent conversation on any subject.  Both he and his wife are the souls of exuberant generosity and a pleasure to be around.  We were discussing work the other day over a small libation and perhaps a cigar.  During this pleasant diversion, he mentioned that his wife was recently saddled with a micromanager.  The saddled reference immediately triggered a horseback riding reference in my brain, which led to the west, which led to the golden days of yesteryear and the TV series the Wild, Wild West[1].

The Wild, Wild West starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin was one of the few TV series I watched in my younger days along with Don Herbert’s Mr. Wizard.  As James West carried an arsenal concealed in the heels of his boots, of course, I promptly went about cutting the heels off my shoes and hollowing them out to conceal various handy objects in them[2]; like homemade lock picks and spools of string I pretended were fuses.  This was an activity my father frowned upon for some inexplicable reason, even though I cleverly managed to reattach the heels and still make them removable through the use of drilled holes and finishing nails.  I am sure Robert Conrad who played James West would have been amused though.  But I digress…

Why the Wild, Wild West reference?  Well for one, I am trying to satisfy a number of reader requests for some of my likes and dislikes, as it were, outside my formal agile blog posts.  Second, the Wild, Wild West is a classic example of agility because they were not micromanaged by their boss.  They were given broad goals and empowered to accomplish them rapidly (after all it was only an hour long show) in ingenious and effective ways.

Even the team was small; in fact it was only a two man team (three if you include Jim West’s horse[3]).   The most important aspect of this team was that their boss trusted them to do their jobs.  They were given a great deal of freedom of operation (after all how many of us have our own private luxury railroad cars[4]).  This trust extended itself to the internal working relationship of the team as well since West and Gordon trusted each other implicitly.

Micromanagement on the other hand is the antithesis of trust and in fact a downright insult to the intelligence of an employee.  There is nothing that will more speedily corrupt the self-actualization, attitude and commitment an employee has for their job and their company, as a micromanager.  This does not mean to say that management cannot make suggestions for improvement.  In an agile environment, anyone can.  Associates can also suggest improvements to managers about the manager’s own work.  Try it sometime Mr. Manager and see what suggestions you get.  Are you afraid?  The key word here is suggestions and not orders.

How do you avoid micromanagers?  Well, as a company, don’t hire them.  When you do hire someone new, make sure they understand the concept of team and employee empowerment.  Tell them in explicit terms that micromanaging is not acceptable.  Finally, as always, have management subject to review in an open 360 degree fashion.  Making complaints behind someone’s back never serves a company well and eventually devolves into political intrigue.  Open and honest reviews are fundamental to successful interpersonal relationships.  Personalized criticism is not allowed, but suggestions for improvement are made.  The reviews are frequent enough[5] so that changes can be made early.  Poor behavior is interdicted before it becomes a bad habit.

So if you are a CEO, you need to nip micromanagement in the bud, right from the top and as soon as possible.  Don’t procrastinate on this issue.   You can read about the benefits of not procrastinating and ACTing immediately in my previous post A Natural Agilist Makes Mangia a Marvelous Experience.   It will kill your company as surely as a bullet from a Smith and Wesson Russian .44 or a Colt .45.  (Yes, I am familiar with old west firearms.  Farmer Langford Peel and I were discussing the merrits of various firearms last month when I revisited the old west.)  If you are a micromanager and reading this, take heart and begin an open dialog with the people you work with and build up a trust relationship with them.  You will both be more effective and happier.  Finally, as you can see, watching TV can be educational. It depends upon what you are watching and if your brain is on or off.  Remember till next time, Keep Agile!

[1] Check it out on DVD or wherever you can find it.  It is still an entertaining series.

[2] James West had hollowed out boot heels where he secreted everything from a derringer to explosives and fuses.  Good thing I did not have access to a derringer.

[3] James West actually had two horses a more placid horse referred to as hobby horse and a fiery one that was more Arabian nicknamed superstar.

[4] Yes even the horse had his own car.

[5] If you wait for a year to pass you are far too late.

About Brian Lucas

In his life, Brian Lucas has been a coach, farm worker, forester, health care advocate, life guard, general contractor, mechanic, mixologist, musician/singer (in a rock group), salesman and teacher. Brian has worked as a project manager, technical marketer, methodologist, manager, software architect, systems designer, data modeler, business analyst, systems programmer, software developer and creative writer. These efforts include over a hundred hi-tech initiatives in almost every business and industrial sector as well as government and military projects. Among them, he designed and developed a quality assurance system for the first transatlantic fiber optic communications network, a manufacturing system for a large computer manufacture’s seven manufacturing centers, a data mining system for steel production, an instrumentation system for cable systems, defined requirements for government’s information systems and designed and developed human performance management systems. Brian has educated and mentored many over the years, designing programs to discover and develop talent. He has also lectured extensively to a variety of audiences. Brian is currently devoting as much time as possible to the innovation of business agility and human capital management along with the next generation of agile software development. As an amateur theoretical physicist he is working on joining general relativity and quantum mechanics through a multidimensional time corollary on string theory and negating the uncertainty principle with Louis de Broglie’s wave/particle hypothesis. He is also an avid blue-water sailor and wilderness backpacker. He enjoys billiards, boxing, chess, cooking, famous battle reenactments and war gaming, fencing, flying, gardening, horseback riding, martial arts (particularly Ninjutsu), philosophy and psychology, playing musical instruments (7 so far), poker, rapid-fire target shooting, reading (he tries to read a new book every night), painting with oils, scuba diving, skiing and recently writing novels.
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163 Responses to The Night of the Deadly Micromanager

  1. Brandy says:

    I know him too. He is very smart and does have two very distinct sides to him: a very logical scientific side and a very creative side. I also know that he is an avid reader of mysteries and a big fan of Conan Doyle. He is usually able to guess the end of mystery shows as soon the guilty party appears. This can get annoying at times. I know from personal experience. 

  2. A Gentle Reader says:

    We should be careful not to overstep the bounds that Brian has for this blog. We don’t want to discourage him from continuing to post or reply to comments. This was a funny and fascinating turn of events though. It was interesting how quickly it snowballed after Amy’s questions and Anthony’s responses. It really shows you Brian the interest your blog has sparked. If your posts weren’t touching people they would never show this much interest in you as a person.

  3. WaltonB says:

    I am glad to see we are back on topic here. I was rather surprised to see that some of these comments made it past the moderator. It does seem that Mr. Lucas’s policy is to approve all except spam and vulgarity. I was also impressed with how he tiptoed through this minefield in his responses. Nicely handled Brian. I agree that there are circumstances when more direction is warranted as Brian puts it. It really is not micromanaging though. I would not even refer to it as mentoring. Mentoring is gentle guidance where the student does most of the work on their own. Apprenticeship is a different model that represents a core dump from a master to a novice. What I really like most here though was Brian’s subtle reference to the teacher becoming the student providing the teacher really was a master. Very eastern philosophy there and a message that we all have to let go sometime. -Barry

  4. Tori says:

    Brian do you intend to do more comparisons or analysis of TV series? How about a simple listing of those that were and the ones that weren’t? This is a great way to teach agile outside the limits of scrum software development.

    • Brian Lucas says:

      That’s a good idea Tori, but since I didn’t and still don’t watch much TV for me it’s going to be a short list. How about suggestions from the field! Ok readers nominate shows as agile or non-agile and I’ll compile a list and be the final judge. -Brian

  5. Hank says:

    Lively stream! I noticed Anthony ducked out early. Brian brought things back under control again is short order. I like his response on mentoring.

  6. Happy-Not says:

    I am glad this worked out for Anthony and his wife, but what do you do when the micromanager is the boss’s favorite son?

  7. Hiedi says:

    I know a micro-manager at work. He is a nice guy and knows an awful lot about the business, but he expects everyone to be able to do what he can do. I have talked with him because he is a friend and he listens and would really like to be a better manager. He seems to only know how to be a micro-manager or not manage at all. Is there a step by step guide for a micro-manager to become an “agile” manager? Any book or seminar recommendations Brian?

  8. Aaron says:

    Some excellent questions here Brian. Let me ask one. Do you have any statistics on the number of micro managers out there?

    • Brian Lucas says:

      Let me answer that in reverse over 90% of the respondents in the best places to work surveys say that their managers DO NOT look over their shoulders.

  9. Suzzie says:

    I think it took some courage for Brian to approve some of these comments. That is if he is the moderator. I am not surprised that he has a loyal following of friends. I do think that they stepped over the line a bit here, although I am sure it was all in fun. I too am a private person and do not choose to use social media. It is a personal choice. I am happy with my circle of friends as I am sure Brian is. He dealt with the comments well though so I guess that this issue is past us. I would point out one thing though. Universally we would all like Brian to post more. He apparently is very busy and is not replying to comments as quickly as he used to. If he is answering these kind of comments, he won’t have as much time to post. Thanks for listening. And thank you Brian for your blog.

  10. Linda says:

    We have all be gently chastized to stay on topic.

  11. Sargent-Z says:

    Funny stream Brian! You definitely were AGILE in getting out of the trap some of your readers were laying for you! lol

  12. Gail says:

    Brian you have the best blog ever!

  13. Melissa says:

    For those of you who want to at least hear Brian presenting there is a webinar that he did called Is Agile a Fad or an Evolution? I saw it and it was terrific the best one I ever attended. It was very well researched, loaded with information, made a very strong and logical case and the graphics were nice. Brian is a good speaker and he fielded about an hour of questions afterwards. That was also the best Q&A session I ever attended. He answered everything thoroughly without stumbling or glossing over an area. Brian has a great deal of breath and depth to his knowledge.

  14. Michael says:

    Nice, very nice in fact. Another winning post Brian!

  15. Jumal says:

    Brian this might be a dumb question, but have you ever known of a case where a micromanager managed an agile project successfully?

  16. Sandeep says:

    Brian I must tell you that you are a very original writer and I enjoy your blog very, very much! Please post more often!

  17. Vera says:

    But Brian you are far too interesting of a person for us to stop pestering you about your personal life and if we can’t get it out of you we need to pest your friends like Anthony!!!!!

  18. Ravenesque says:

    Oh yeah lets all gang up on Brian and see how much information we can “weedle” (as hobbits do) out of him about his personal life! I am sure that will go over well! I do have to admit I would really like to know more about the man behind the curtain or the blog in this case.

  19. Maura says:

    Hey Brian: Great post! I loved the example even though I never saw this show. You have to forgive us if we show an interest in you as well. It not uncommon to be interested in an uncommon person and your writing and your profile shows that you are a very fascinating person. Its all in good fun. :M

  20. Kory says:

    Well this blog got lively here. BUT as the author states this is not twitter.

  21. Andrameda says:

    This was soo funny especially the comments. What a way to pinch a control freak’s nose!

  22. jbeam says:

    Another volley fired in the war to liberate workers from arrogant management. Well shot sir!

  23. Falcone says:

    This was a very interesting approach to talking about a very severe problem – micromanagement! My question is how do you balance imparting vision and guidance with supporting empowerment and allowing people to grow? Any guides or tips?

  24. Gail Roth says:

    I found this to be very amusing and true. The most entertaining and educational post I have ever read! -Gail

  25. Carl says:

    This was hilarious! Especially the footnotes and the comments. Man did this comment track ever EXPLODE! Good message about micromanaging and how it hurts everyone. I never thought of the connection between micromanaging and agile before, but it is true you can be both!

  26. Lou Hagen says:

    I appreciate what the author has done here and I’ll admit it is very clever. I am not sure that I agree that micromanagers are reclaimable as this article implies. In my experience they never change their stripes. Maybe the test would be to send them this article and watch their expression. Those that blow up and get angry should be fired. Those that are thoughtful or display a similar expression should be mentored. This is no denying that this is a very inventive article despite my misgivings. :LH

  27. Gil says:

    We sure have our share of micromanagers where I work! It seems to be a prerequisite. That or being related to the boss who has his whole damn family on the payroll and most of his friends.

  28. Nunzio says:

    There’s no room for them period!

  29. Arcole says:

    I wonder if a number figure could be put on how much a micromanager actually costs a company in productivity drop, lost revenue and employee defection and recruitment failure? Then maybe senior management will take notice!

  30. BigBen says:

    I would love to see a blog vote of anyone who experienced a deadly micromanage repenting.

  31. Francine-M says:

    Super post Brian! More Please!

  32. Trisha says:

    What a wild comment stream Brian. I laughed how you tiptoed through these tulips! lol

  33. Jolie-Robertson says:

    I think that some of the people who use this post as an offensive weapon are missing the point. I believe Brian meant this as a gentle remonstrance of micromanagement and an example of what not to do. He also takes it one step further and shows the advantage of empowerment and being agile. It’s not meant to be a hammer to beat someone with its meant to be a light to guide someone out of a dark place that perhaps doesn’t realize what they are doing.

  34. Diedra says:

    Oh Brian! However do you come up with these?

  35. Keenan says:

    Oh if only we could deal with Micromanagers as expeditiously as James West did villains!

  36. Wilke says:

    It seems like everybody has at least one of these horror stories. Thanks for posting Brian and giving us a chance to vent.

  37. Dobie says:

    I have been cursed with these MMs all my life they just don’t die out!

  38. Ned says:

    Oh yeah I had one of these he ruined 3 years of my life!

  39. Corbit says:

    You have more faith than I do. I have never known a zebra of these stripes to change.

  40. An O' Nimous says:

    Man o man! I send this to my control freak boss and he TOTALLY spazed out. They had to transfer him to a staff position. ****COOLNESS****

  41. Parry says:

    I was reluctant to comment here, but I just had to. This is probably the most entertaining blog post and comment stream of all time. I really enjoyed the article about micromanagement. It was well written and quite humorous. It was also surprisingly informative and your comparison of how the series was agile was impressive. I have to admit that I enjoyed the footnotes and the comments even more though. The insatiable curiosity of some of us gals and how you fenced with them was a reality show in itself. I admit my curiosity is up now and I’d like to meet you.

  42. Lucile says:

    This is so funny and true! Message is simple management get the message you are not smart enough to do all the thinking and you certainly don’t deserve million$ salaries.

  43. Georgette Eshbach says:

    This was so entertaining I love the comparison of agile to a TV show though I never saw this one, it was before my time. The comments were an absolute riot! Why aren’t you posting daily???

  44. Laurette Givens says:

    This was a very good and illustrative post! I am a certified trainer and I never thought of business and management agility in this way nor imagined using a TV show as a model. I did not see the series or the movie with Will Smith unfortunately. You made your point despite that. I normally never read footnotes or comments. This time I am glad I did. The footnotes were hilarious and the comment stream was wildly funny in spots. I can understand readers fascination with you Brian. You are an interesting writer, therefore we all assume you are an interesting person. Too often the reality of the person is a let down from the imagined version. Somehow I don’t think that is so in your case. I hope I get to meet you some day.

  45. Helgar Sholti says:

    There is much thought here. There is much wisdom here. Here is a thought leader for our age. I recommend to all this blog!

  46. Oneadgirl says:

    This was a very good post about micromanagement. It is always destructive. The comments here were very funny, but belonged in a twitter following. Brian has such a sense of humor I have to meet him sometime.

  47. WildGirl says:

    I just love this post! You are a GREAT writer and so very entertaining! Please post more like this! WG

  48. MillieDaGhost says:

    Brian I thought that you were going to do more comparisons like this! This was brilliant!

  49. Tammy C White says:

    Oh Brian these comments are a treasure. What a quick wit you are! If you are ever in Colorado look me up. I sent my email address.

  50. Jon Barkley says:

    I loved this analogy and will use it in teaching agile thanks Brian! This comment stream was a pill!

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