A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
August 11th, 2013 by William

The Puppet Masters

The Puppet Masters is a 1994 movie based on Robert A. Heinlein’s 1951 novel in which American government agents attempt to thwart a covert invasion of Earth by mind-controlling alien parasites. It’s always been one of my favorite sci-fi/horror flicks. Maybe that’s because it reminds me so much of the typical workplace. In my mind The Puppet Master is the perfect description for one of the most despised practices in modern management–micromanagement.

From The Puppet Master perspective, micromanagement means that someone is “pulling the strings,” controlling what goes on beneath them. That’s exactly what a micromanager (a mind-controlling parasite) is doing when he/she tries to control everything that’s done, or produced, by his/her subordinates.

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines micromanagement as “management with excessive control or attention on details.” Dictionary.com defines micromanagement as “management or control with excessive attention to minor details.” The online dictionary Encarta defines micromanagement as “attention to small details in management: control of a person, or a situation, by paying extreme attention to small details.”

In my mind these last two definitions prove more telling and accurate in describing micromanagement because they reveal that most micromanaging bosses will, in fact, focus their “extreme” attention on the “small, minor details.” It’s that focus on the minutia that really makes micromanaging cross the line between constructive criticism and move into the realm of bullying. In my book Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw I make the case that micromanaging is, in fact, a form of bullying–more subtle maybe than some other more theatrical forms–but bullying none the less.

Of all the forms of bullying that exists I believe that micromanaging (workaholism is a close second) is the most sinister of ways for bosses to exert their command and control mentality on their subordinates. In some of its more intense forms it should be grounds for declaring a hostile workplace.

The real problem is that the command and control management system, that’s standard in the modern workplace, is built to reinforce micromanaging bosses. This explains why the sociopathic element typically rises to the top. They possess the natural tendencies to want to control all aspects of their subordinates’ work lives. Technology aids in this as Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, generated by subordinates, beg to be scrutinized by the boss before put to use. Even when out of the office, micromanagers can satisfy their cravings with smart phones which ensure that harassment of the masses need never be far out of reach.

The negative consequences of micromanaging behavior run the gamut from being minor inconveniences to quite serious ones. What the micromanaging boss doesn’t understand is that they are displaying poor management skills when they are unwilling, or unable, to take the time to coach or mentor their staff v. pick apart everything they do or say.

Obviously this results in unproductive employees who become resentful or develop their own malfunctions and insecurities. A micromanaging boss is unable to lead by example because he feels powerless to let go of the reins and allow his employees to grow, take risks, and generally believe they are in control of their own destiny. Suffice to say micromanagers are not servant leaders.

Overall the organization as a whole will suffer as a result as most of the members will not be willing to make a decision without checking in with their micromanaging boss first.  Creativity, trust, and empowerment are all extinguished as a result of micromanaging. Authenticity is probably the only thing a micromanager can be praised for as the practice it brings out the true person in the management position–unfortunately it’s from a negative perspective.

Sadly, micromanaging also becomes another sinister tool (in concert with the performance review process) to terminate employees. In this scenario, a boss creates standards that an employee is not capable of ever meeting thus justifying the boss terminating the employee. And better yet for the micromanager, an employee may leave voluntarily because of his acknowledgement that he’s being set-up or belief that he’s in a no-win situation. Sociopaths don’t care if they’re tagged as being ruthless–they pride themselves on that accusation.

So what are the tell-tale behaviors of a micromanager? First, a micromanaging boss resists delegating tasks to his staff, preferring to completely control “all” activities in his, or her, fiefdom. Second, a micromanager will consistently focus on constantly correcting tiny (minor) details in their subordinates output rather than seeing the big picture. In most cases they will focus on “form” versus “content” or “quality” of the subordinate’s work. Lastly, micromanaging bosses must “approve” any action to be taken by a subordinate–most often including things that are in the subordinate’s job description to handle autonomously. Thus micromanagers become inordinately upset at others who attempt to make even minor decisions without first consulting them.

Remember, a micromanager is totally unaware of his/her behavior or its destructive effect on others because it is part of his/her genetic makeup. When sociopathic, bosses develop micromanaging behaviors that are the mirror of all their deranged concepts of management, i.e., what’s important and what’s not. Micromanagers have a hard time distinguishing between “efficiency” and “effectiveness.” It’s also a defense mechanism against the paranoid insecure notions they may have of how the world is “out to get them” and strip them of their power. Micromanaging is a manifestation of their need to be in control and is exacerbated by their narcissistic personality.

Micromanaging arises out of a sociopath’s general lack of trust in anyone other than themselves and because of that ever growing need for power. He, or she, may have learned how to be a manager by working for a micromanager that they were brainwashed into thinking was a great leader. Remember sociopaths who make it to the top rose through the ranks of the sycophants–they learned to idolize bad behavior.

In the end a micromanaging boss’s behaviors results in his/her workgroup acting like puppets all controlled through the strings being manipulated by the boss. I wish I had some words of wisdom that could rid the workplace of this ilk, but alas, there are no silver bullets. However, we could learn from one of the most famous puppet shows of all time: Punch and Judy. Despite Punch being a ruthless bully, Judy usually persevered in the end and Punch met his just demise.


3 Responses to “The Puppet Masters”
  1. Anonymous says

    Hey there! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this write-up to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!…

  2. Anonymous says

    Lovely site! I am loving it!! Will come back again. I am bookmarking your feeds also…

  3. Anonymous says

    An awesome write-up. Thank you so much!…

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