top of page

5 Steps To Transform Micromanagers And Bullies Into Better Leaders

In a recent post, we reflected on leaders who can fall into one of two categories that few would envy: The Micromanager or The Bully.

To quickly recap, The Micromanager will hover over employees, never let those employees produce anything significant on their own without the Micromanager’s say-so and generally speaking live in a world of insecurity.

The Bully is never transparent as communicator, doesn’t tell his employees anything and only gives them tasks beneath what they’re capable of doing. As you can imagine, motivation is not The Bully’s strong suit.

If you’re looking to reverse course from this and leave your status as Micromanager or Bully behind for good, read on. At Leading With Courage Academy, we run into Micromanagers and Bullies all the time in our work, but through four smart steps, you can empower your people while becoming the kind of leader that more people want to work for instead of fear.

Let’s take a look at how you can ease into a transition that couldn’t be more of a healthier one for you and your team.

How? In a word: Delegate.

Invariably, some of the most forward-thinking leaders we look up to can point to a time in their career where they were taken under a manager’s wing and trusted by that manager delegating them certain tasks.

They can’t always point to a specific thing they were doing to earn that trust but they can remember the moment as a pivotal one where everything in their career changed.

Can you recall this type of moment in your own career where someone gave you a chance to shine, even if you couldn’t figure out why? You have the same opportunity today as a leader.

To delegate wisely to elevate your emerging talents on staff, start by answering the question: "Should I delegate it? Should I do it myself? Or should I automate it?"

If it’s a task you can delegate, the next natural question is, “Who is the best person to perform this task that I can delegate to and how interested are they in that task?"

In some cases, you may even select a person who needs further development – something a Micromanager or Bully isn’t typically going to want to do. Delegating a task may admittedly scare the dickens out of you if you’re a Micromanager or Bully.

Yet, a funny thing happens after the first two or three times you delegate.

You’ll begin to notice a shift. You’ll then delegate more and more to the point of where you’ll say, “Gosh, what was I so worried about?" If you’re intelligent about what you delegate and who you delegate it to, the challenge could begin to subside.

One caveat or clarification: We know that Micromanagers and Bullies don’t always travel together and aren’t the only people challenged by delegation. For example, we find this common among entrepreneurs who are not accustomed to having competent resources around them. This may be due to a lack of funds to invest in additional staff or someone who is anxious about not controlling things. In the latter case, it’s not so much that they’re a micromanager, but more that they’re a non-manager.

Here are five steps on how delegation gets easier from here:

#1: Start Low Risk

Let’s be honest: You’re probably not going to delegate someone a series of high-profile tasks that carry a great deal of risk to you if things go wrong. Nor should you. Instead, identify the lower risk projects that give your people the opportunity to show what they can do and you should delegate in order to get other higher profile things done. So you can delegate with confidence and create an air of trust without carrying monumental blowback if mistakes are made. It’s smart to bet on others but bet wisely.

#2: Communication Is Key

When I was at SC Johnson, I found myself dealing with a new set of managers but it was clear right away that people had a definite feeling about what kind of managers they really were. I heard things like, “Be really careful of these guys. They're micromanagers. They're going to be in your office all the time asking you do things that aren’t on your list of tasks."

What I discovered about these managers (even if they were micromanagers), was that what they really wanted was information. The person whose job I was moving into didn't provide them with very much information at all. So guess what? The boss would come to them and constantly be asking for things since there was little communication. Can you blame him?

The way I made this discovery was through a series of regular meetings I set up with my managers. In the course of doing so, I learned that all they really wanted was to avoid surprises since, after all, they hadn’t previously been getting information. So if you’re in a management position, creating a climate for information sharing to occur gives you the opportunity to understand what everyone is doing without needing to hover over them all the time. Plus, it’s a chance for your team to display what they’re accomplishing.

#3: Be Clear In Your Direction

Some people struggle to do some things for fear that they won’t meet expectations. So, rather than do it, they could wait to ask you, "Is this OK to do? Can I do it that way?"

Now, you might be tempted to say, “Just do it!” Sure, you can say that, but if it isn’t done the way you want it done and you don’t react well, that’s going to just reinforce your employee’s fear. So make sure you give solid instruction because it does little good to delegate if there’s going to be a serious deficiency in the instructions you provide.

#4: Let Them Explore Possibilities

This may feel like a fine line to tread but it’s entirely possible to give your people certain parameters while also giving them the latitude to do things their way within those parameters. Tell them what to do and not do, but also let them come up with their own ideas within those boundaries. Part of the excitement and fun of work – sometimes – is being pleasantly surprised by the people who work for you.

Consider that if you’ve given someone great direction, it's a reflection on you and the power of your leadership. Think of the picture you’re painting for the rest of the organization – here you were able to direct someone and didn’t have to hover over them to get outstanding results. What a powerful statement on your leadership abilities!

#5: Hold Them Accountable For Their Own Good

Just because we’re talking about delegating doesn’t mean you have to take your hands off the wheel completely – there’s still a matter of accountability here. Give them the information they need to be successful and clear direction to do it. But if a team member isn’t meeting their commitments and constantly needs reminders, you still have to step in and explain why they didn’t meet your expectations.

Now, it can be very tempting here to automatically jump right back into Micromanager or Bully mode. In fact, you may have to do that temporarily in the event of a job not getting done when you’re pushed you up against the wall on a deadline. Still, after the fire has been put out, use the experience as a teachable moment. What did they not understand from your direction? Was there something else that they felt was a higher priority? To be clear, this is not solely for the purpose of looking at what you could have done better but where things fell through the cracks so that it hopefully doesn’t happen again.

Sometimes having these discussions can enlighten you on how folks interpret your direction. For example, when I was working in France, I told my team of important initiatives I wanted them to get to when they had a chance. Most of the time, I would leave these people alone because they were senior employees and I didn't want to be hounding them. I thought they would just get it done to the best of their abilities without any reminders.

However, when it didn't get done on time, I approached them about it and asked, “Why didn't you do it at all?" The response? "Well, you told me when I had a chance. I haven't had a chance." They were reading things awfully literally! But they were also used to people in charge being much more directive, which we interpret as micromanagement. In this country, if I told you exactly how to do something, you wouldn't like that. But there, they were quite happy being told what to do, because 80% of them were happy taking orders. Needless to say, having this conversation put us back on the same page for other projects going forward.

Take Our Self-Assessment

To help you decide if you should delegate a task, automate it, or do it yourself, our gift to you is this link to our delegation self-assessment. If it suggests you delegate the task, then it takes you to another short self-assessment that will help you decide to whom you should delegate it. (These are two examples of the sorts of practical tools we offer in our Leading With Courage Workshops, as well as in bundles that are available for purchase online at

There you have it – five great steps that will gradually move you away from feeling like a Micromanager or Bully and more like a leader whose words and actions resonate with your team like never before. At Leading With Courage Academy, we’re here to continue that momentum. So if you’ve recently come into a new leadership role or are experiencing the joining of two cultures as the result of a merger or acquisition, the time to talk to us about using our tools and talents for greater engagement is now. Give LWCA a call today at 312.827.2643 or email

Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
bottom of page