Rhonda ScarfIAAP Summit 2016 Speaker
Sessions during IAAP Summit 2016 are:

  • Leadership Bootcamp: A Lesson in Leadership
    7.23.2016 | 8:00 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.
  • Leadership Bootcamp: A Lesson in Leadership
    7.23.2016 | 1:00 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.
  • The Goldilocks Approach: How to Communicate “Just Right” in Every Situation
    7.24.2016 | 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.


I’m not proud of it, but I am a micromanager.

I used to work for a micromanager. It wasn’t pleasant, was hard on my self confidence, and I swore I wouldn’t do it myself. “Mike” used to follow up on every detail, he used to give me step-by-step instructions on how to do things I had done a thousand times, and he would make notes on every little thing that was not done the way he would do it (and bring it up during my review).


I was young at the time, fresh from college, fresh from still being a child in my parent’s home, and I felt like I had another parent. At first I thought it was great that he was so concerned that I did well in my job, and I liked the extra time he took to explain things for me. After a while I started to think that perhaps he thought I wasn’t very smart and needed long explanations for tasks I was very comfortable with.

I learned to hate it because it made me feel like a child. It made me feel like I was being chastised and that I wasn’t trusted at all. It took away any motivation, any creativity, and any willingness to do something extra for fear of doing it wrong—or not the way Mike would have done it.

I promised I wouldn’t do that to others. Clearly, I’ve forgotten this promise.

A few years ago I bought Caroline (our office manager at the time) a new laptop. I got into training over 20 years ago as an IT instructor, so anything technical is like a new toy to me. I love setting it up, organizing it, and getting it ready to work.

I set up Caroline’s new computer. I gave her all the bells and whistles. I know that many times we are so pushed for time that we don’t set up the proper organizational systems and by the time we get time to do that, the computer has everything in one big directory and feels like it is too late to clean it up. So, I took the time to set it up properly and well organized. I created folders—everywhere!

In my time management workshops and webinars I talk about the mess that email creates for many of us, and the “goal” is to have your inbox in your email program empty (much like your inbasket on your desk). You still have work to do, but it is organized in files so it’s easy to find.

I set Caroline up with lots of folders. Her inbox was empty, everything was transferred over, and I was thrilled with the new organization.

Soon after the new computer arrived, Caroline wasn’t in the office one day and I had to send an email out from her computer. I almost cried when I saw the inbox had over 100 messages (all read and completed) in it, and that all the folders I created were sitting there empty.

It took everything I had not to organize her computer again. I wanted it fresh, clean, and organized for efficiency. My logic said that if you were done with it, put it away (in one of those nice folders!). Caroline’s logic said to leave it in the inbox where she could find it in the future if necessary.

When she came back to work the next day, I didn’t say anything. This was her computer. Because something works well for me, doesn’t mean that is works well for everyone else. I wanted to explain my rationale for the nice clean inbox. I wanted to explain that it is really important to move the emails you are done with (doesn’t mean delete, it means move). I wanted to explain that I get paid to teach people this, yet she wasn’t doing it.

Why? Why did I feel the need to micromanage this aspect of Caroline’s job? Caroline was very good at what she did, she didn’t let things fall through the cracks, and she didn’t say “I don’t know where that file is.” Her organizational system was working well for her, so what benefit would be gained by having me insist she change it to the way that made the most sense to me?

Are you a micromanager too? Here are some tips to remember when working with others:

  • Be clear on the final result you’re looking for. For example, I need to know that Caroline can do her job efficiently. That is really the final result I need. Ask yourself if there will be a different outcome if they do things differently.
    • For instance – everyone seems to have their own opinion about how to load a dishwasher. If the final result is that the dishes come out clean, does it matter how they were loaded? Is your final result clean dishes? Or is your final result, clean dishes, maximum load capacity (ie six bowls, 10 coffee cups etc). If that is your final result, then you need to make that clear. You are not communicating clearly if you ask for the dishwasher to be loaded without giving the specifics
    • Keep in mind that too many specifics means you are over-managing and you will not get people to cooperate willingly. “Can you please load the dishwasher, ensuring all the plates are facing this way, that there are at least 10 coffee cups, the forks are all pointing up, and the plastic is on the top level only” sounds like a bit much doesn’t it? If I asked you to read this newsletter, while sitting, at 11:20 a.m. because that is the best time to absorb, you might decide not to read it at all because of the way the instructions made you feel.
  • Get out of the way! Trust is something you have to have with the people you work with. If you watch them or check up on them obsessively, they will rebel. Adults don’t want to be made to feel like children, and if you are constantly checking up on them, you will discourage them. Trust that they know what they are doing and will ask if they need help.
    • My son had a job where the boss would watch them do the job long past his probation period. How insulting and demoralizing. If you are being watched (or followed up with constantly) you feel as if the boss is just waiting to pounce. Not a good work environment.
  • Be available for assistance if needed, too! And don’t overcompensate your micromanaging with absenteeism either.
  • Let them do it their way. Unless there are legal or safety implications, let them just do it. Just because it isn’t the way you would do it, does not mean it is wrong. Be flexible.

I work with professionals—so do you. If they are smart enough to keep their job, they are smart enough to do it without you constantly checking up on them. Don’t discourage your fellow employees or staff members.

Caroline will know now that I wanted to fix her inbox. She’ll laugh at me, but she probably won’t do it the way that I would prefer to because her system works for her.

The problem is mine—not hers.   I need to accept that she is perfectly capable of doing things herself. I am not her mother, she didn’t ask me for help, and she is an adult!

So today, when you go to the office, let people do their own job. Even if you are the boss! Do your job, not theirs.

Rhonda Scharf is a full-time professional speaker, trainer, and author specializing in administrative professionals, and well known at IAAP in both Canada and the US. She has spoken to tens of thousands of people in 10 different countries. In 2004 Rhonda served as the National President of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS) and is named in the 2014 edition of “Who’s Who in Professional Speakers” (where she has been listed since 1998). Rhonda has earned the highest speaking designation in the world, the “Certified Speaking Professional” designation (CSP), of which Canada has only 60 recipients (Rhonda was Canada’s 3rd female recipient).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s