Micro Managing in the Army – What to Do About It

Micro-managing is one of those “buzz words” that really gets thrown around a lot in the Army, and outside of the military.  Many people complain that their boss is a micr0-manager, without ever giving any real explanation as to what that really means to them.

Micro-Managing in the Army: What You Should Know

My goal today is to dive into this issue and explain what a micro-manager is and educate you about what you can do about it.  Let’s get started.

What is a micro-manager?  Here are a couple definitions I found online:

“In business management, micromanagement is a management style whereby a manager closely observes or controls the work of subordinates or employees. Micromanagement generally has a negative connotation.” Source: Wikipedia

“A boss or manager who gives excessive supervision to employees. A micro manager, rather than telling an employee what task needs to be accomplished and by when, will watch the employee’s actions closely and provide rapid criticism if the manager thinks it’s necessary. Usually, the term has a negative connotation because an employee may feel that the micro manager is being condescending towards them, due to a perceived lack of faith in the employee’s competency. A micro manager may also avoid the delegation process when assigning duties and exaggerate the importance of minor details to subordinates.” Source: Investopedia

For simplicity sake I definite it as:

Supervising someone so closely that they feel uncomfortable about it.

If you’ve been around the Army for more than a day, you realize there are always at least THREE sides to every story (your side, my side and the truth).  In other words, someone might complain that there boss is a micro-manager, but they forget to the mention that THEY are incompetent at their job, which forces their boss to be overly involved.  And some supervisors might be so oblivious to the fact that they are poor leaders and don’t know how to manage their people effectively.

What I want to do below is share a few tips for Soldiers and Supervisors, to help prevent this problem.

Tips for Bosses

As a supervisor, you need to give your soldiers clear expectations.  You need to make sure they know what their job is, that they have the proper training, and the time and resources to get the job done right.  Your responsibility starts as soon as they start their job.  You need to counsel them in writing, tell them what your expectations are and make sure they clearly understand what their job entails.

During the counseling, you should explain your personality and leadership type and find out “what” type of working relationship they expect with their boss. Doing this one thing alone can prevent many future problems.

Realize you will probably have to be “more” involved with your Soldiers when they are “new” to the job.  Most jobs require a 30 day learning curve (some more than that) and during that time, you will have to work very closely with your new direct reports.  This is where you answer their questions and teach them the ropes of their job.

If you are fortunate to have someone who is highly motivated and highly competent (maybe 10-20 percent of the people in the Army), you won’t have to give the person much guidance or oversight.  They will be a self-starter and will figure things out on their own. However, if you have someone who is less motivated and less competent, you might have to be actively involved with them on a daily basis the ENTIRE time they are in the job.

The bottom line is that everyone is different.  Even if the person you supervise thinks you are micro-managing them, that’s fine. Ultimately, as a supervisor, it’s your responsibility to make sure they get their job done right.  Yes, you want a good working relationship with them, if possible, but it’s not the most important thing.

Tips for Soldiers

My first tip for anyone with a boss in the Army (yes, everyone has a boss) is to be damn good at your job.  Chances are, if you are EXTREMELY competent, your boss won’t have to get overly involved in your job and micro-manage you.  Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you I’ve never had a boss micro-manage me in my 15 year career.

So if you think your boss is a micro-manager, the first thing you should do is a gut check and look yourself in the mirror.  Be honest with yourself and ask yourself if (1) you are doing a good job or (2) you would want someone just like you working for you.  If you can identify some problems, fix it!

If you think you are good at your job, but your boss is still micro-managing you, you should sit down and have a friendly conversation with them.  Ask them if there is a problem with your performance.  Tell them how you feel.  Of course, you need to be professional while you do this AND realize their could be repercussions for speaking your mind.

Another thing to do is to ACCEPT that every leader you will ever work for is completely different.  Everyone has their own leadership style, personality, and strengths, and they have the right to do so, as long as it is ethical and legal.  There is no regulation in the Army saying that you have to be happy with the way your leader leads you!

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that micro-managing in the Army isn’t as big of a deal as most people make it out to be.  My best advice is to be good at your job so your boss doesn’t have to micro-manage you.  And if you lead others, make sure you give them clear expectations and you give them the support, time and resources they need to succeed!

What are your thoughts about micro-managing in the Army?  Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.


chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)
Publisher, Part-Time-Commander.com
Email: mrchuckholmes@gmail.com

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6 thoughts on “Micro Managing in the Army – What to Do About It”

  1. As a supervisor where I had to train people I made the habit of sitting down with them and asking what their learning style is. I’ve had some people that had to be hands-on from the start, while others did better when they could observe and take notes – then work through their notes until they internalized the job and responsibilities. I have always been up front with my people and I tell them that I will give them enough rope to hang themselves with. That sounds harsh but they understood from the beginning that I would impart all the knowledge I know – it’s their job to learn and ask questions. Of course there is a reasonable time frame to learn the responsibilities too. You either get it or don’t. If you don’t then perhaps the job is not a good fit for you. I always threw down a challenge too – Find a way to do it better, faster, more accurate or more efficient and we’ll do it your way. Micromanagement doesn’t have to be a bad word but I find that people who habitually practice this form of supervision are generally fearful of losing their job.

  2. There are those leaders who tend to think that they need to get their “hands dirty,” and jump in and help. In some cases, others think this is micro-managing and take offense. Even though the leader didn’t mean it as micro-managing, others take it that way. I believe if a leader is planning on doing this, they need to make it clear to subordinates so that no one is offended. By doing so, the leader will gain even more respect and no one will feel uncomfortable.

  3. Micro-managing can be frustrating, but in most cases, I have found that in many cases the boss is in the right because, as you said, the employee just isn’t doing their job to their utmost. If you feel you are being micro-managed unfairly, I also agree that you should ask for a one on one meeting with that boss. Communication can really help.

    1. Candace Ginestar

      I agree that if you feel unfairly micromanaged, you should request a meeting with your supervisor. A lot of times, just clearing the air and getting on the same page can save a lot of heartache.

  4. Candace Ginestar

    Hi Chuck. I agree that micromanaging is very irritating. I think there’s a difference between micromanaging and mentoring (or being a CPL, who’s job it is to be up everyone’s rear end about doing the right thing). I think that squad leaders and team leaders have a job to do, and it may be considered micromanaging by some, but in my opinion it is absolutely necessary. The time when micromanaging is most irritating is when you are a leader, getting micromanaged by another leader.

    1. Candace Ginestar

      I’ve been thinking about it and what you said about expressing your leadership style in a counseling session, along with asking what the other person expects, can help avoid a lot of issues. If someone understands that your leadership style is that way, then they may be less offended (or know that you aren’t trying to micromanage). Anything that helps open lines of communication is good.

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