The Secrets to Managing a Virtual Micromanager

By Juliet Funt|12-04-2022 | 1 Min Read
Source: Image by @pch.vector on Freepik.com
Managing Virtual Micromanager can be Difficult

I work with a lot of senior leaders who speak frankly with me, and many are rattled over one issue: their lack of visibility over their virtual teams. This absence of control—paired with the need to accelerate business in 2021—is a tough dichotomy to navigate.

If you remove control from a controlling person, they panic. In fact, losing control makes even mellower executives hold on tighter to what is within their sphere of influence. In the virtual realm, this compensatory tightening is happening worldwide around the world because managers have lost their previously dependable methods of staying connected and on top of everything.

Additionally, long before the pandemic, many micromanagers suffered from what I call “incompetence fatigue.” Throughout their career, they’ve been disappointed too many times to count and have learned to double down on control as a solution. With the added distance of working from home, their paranoia of possible errors and gaps increases.

But when employees anticipate and understand the history and psychology behind their boss’s actions, they can approach these worried, challenging bosses in new ways. They can purposefully summon empathy, build trust, and get better work done together more efficiently. Here’s how:

Infographic by Leaderonomics: Secrets to Managing a Virtual Micromanager

Ask Clarifying Questions

Asking the right questions about a new assignment signals attention to detail and thoughtfulness, both of which assuage the nerves of a boss who holds on too tight. Questions also help you avoid overwork by asking first.

Use these to scope any work properly:

  • How broad should we go (for data or research)?
  • Do you have any examples I should view first?
  • What deadlines do we need to hit?
  • How often would you like to have updates on progress?
  • What will success look like?


If something goes amiss, be accountable (another winning ingredient toward softening a micromanager). Own your part in any problem or mistake without lowering your status by over-apologizing.

Impress Out of the Gate

Recently, I had a call with a publicist who, in the first six minutes of our call, showed me a thoughtful prep document customized just for me. Mic drop. Hired. She’d put in extra effort and exceeded expectations even before she had the job. Once she was on board, my natural instinct was to then let her run with projects with a huge amount of autonomy.

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Get the M&Ms Right

When Van Halen toured, they were known for one crazy backstage request. Every contract explicitly stated that there be a bowl of M&Ms backstage with all the brown ones removed—or the promoter would forfeit the entire show at full price.

This was not diva behavior; it was a brilliant method for testing attention to detail. Van Halen’s touring stage set up was unparalleled in its complexity. If the band walked into the dressing room and saw brown M&Ms, they knew the rider was not read carefully and they’d likely encounter other oversights in more critical areas.
Find your boss’s M&Ms. Look for areas where you can catch a small detail that others would overlook, and you’ll work your way into their trusted circle. Take copious notes in front of them or on camera when they talk. Do your homework on projects before showing up. And always take a little white space before a meeting with your boss or senior leaders so your head is clear.

Ask for Their Trust

When some rapport and has been established (or reinforced), you might be ready for a more direct conversation about how tightly you are managed—or micromanaged. Have a frank but careful discussion with your boss about how you’re feeling and how their control and constraints affect your contribution and engagement. If delivering such a message seems impossible, find a partner to help you script and rehearse the conversation.

Read More: On Trust

Be Awesome

Finally, dedicate yourself to properly deployed excellence (featured in perfect proportions in our last article on perfectionism). Those who shine at work find themselves slightly less micromanaged because they’ve demonstrated that they’re worthy of trust. Diligently plan your time, own your actions, and create some white space to think about how to serve your company in the most profound ways. Do the work; build the trust; and enjoy that sweet, sweet, earned autonomy.

This article was also published on Juliet Funt's LinkedIn

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Juliet Funt is the founder and CEO at JFG (Juliet Funt Group), which is a consulting and training firm built upon the popular teaching of CEO Juliet Funt, author of A Minute to Think.
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