How to Deal

Wanted: Space to Grow

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, April 10, 2008; 12:00 AM

How do I deal with a supervisor who micromanages, but gets annoyed when I ask for guidance? I am -- supposedly -- an executive at my company, but I feel like a junior manager. Every project I manage is scrutinized as if I were an amateur. My supervisor constantly challenges me in meetings with other colleagues and assigns me specific tasks that make it appear as though she lacks confidence in my judgment and abilities.

She tells me who to follow up with by e-mail. And tears apart my writing, making meaningless edits that often make what I am saying sound even worse. I was hired to do a job that requires creativity and leadership, but am afraid to display those qualities because of my supervisor's belittling management style. I have tried accepting that I won't have independence in this role, and have started coming to my supervisor for detailed guidance on things. However, she acts as if I am bothering her and tells me to exercise more independence. Help! I am out of ideas.

Yours is a very common predicament, and one which is not easily managed. You pursue a job that sounds like an opportunity for professional growth, greater responsibility, and a showcase for your ideas and abilities. You envision yourself making important executive decisions, charting your own course and leaving your unique imprint on the business of the organization. Unfortunately, your supervisor has other plans.

It's only natural to wonder why she is treating you this way. Your manager may just be a poor manager, self-aggrandizing by nitpicking your work, yet refusing to accept responsibility for mentoring and guiding you. Keep in mind that she could have genuine concerns about your performance. And if that is the case, she isn't doing a good job of expressing that in a constructive manner. It is possible that your supervisor means well and that her irritating comments are actually an attempt at constructive coaching.

You and your supervisor need to have an honest talk about what she thinks of your work and how you interpret her behavior. Be direct without being confrontational. Rather than saying that her edits are "meaningless," tell your supervisor that you would like constructive feedback about your writing. This way you are able to learn what she wants and save time. Be sure to mention that you appreciate her efforts to guide you regarding e-mail communications, but explain that you would prefer to have higher level discussions with her to help identify key stakeholders on projects.

If you both strive toward open communication and mutual understanding, your relationship might improve. This is an ongoing process, and one that may never yield dramatic results. But it is worth the investment, because the payoff means greater clarity about whether or not this position is the right fit.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, April 15 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail hradvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered. The information contained in this column is not intended to be legal advice.


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