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Dealing with Micro-Managing Chief Executive Officers

Dealing with Micro-Managing Chief Executive Officers

Don't Get Lost in Your Chief Executive Officers' Shadow

We previously talked about the perils of having a bum board, but what about when your chief executive officer (CEO) is the problem?

Whether you are a board member, staff member, or volunteer, you may feel your decisions and responsibilities may be overshadowed, ignored, or co-opted by your chief executive officer. Sure, most of us have experienced a boss who was too "hands-on" and involved with the minutia and details of what those who work for them are doing, but it can be especially bad when it is a CEO.

So, how do you identify a micro-managing chief executive officer, much less handle them?


Spotting a Micro-Managing Chief Executive Officer

There are a number of dead giveaways that your chief executive officer is micro-managing. Here are just a few to be aware of:


  • Lack of Priorities: Micro-managing is impossible without a chief executive officer who knows what their priorities should be. Without this ability, they lose sight of what is vital for their role's proper responsibilities. They spend too much time involved with what others are doing, typically getting in the way.
  • In the Spotlight: The chief executive officer needs to claim all the credit and praise for their staffs' and volunteers' successes. A CEO who ensures all roads of progress lead to their door harms morale by not allowing the hard work everyone puts in provide its well-deserved acknowledgment.
  • Making too Many Decisions: To best manage their time, a chief executive officer needs to know how to delegate responsibility. A CEO making too many decisions because they do not trust anyone else to do it properly is usually the problem, not their staff and volunteers. Perhaps the worst part of this is that it snowballs -- the staff and employees will increasingly become less willing to take the initiative themselves the more responsibility is removed from them.
  • Holding Up the Work: A chief executive officer is meant to keep their sights on the big picture. If projects are held up because the CEO requires steps pass through them before proceeding, they are probably too deeply involved in managing those projects. Instead, initiatives should have someone else be hands on who then reports back to the chief executive officer.
  • Outcomes are Weak: CEO's aren't meant to know every little detail of what's going on. If staff and volunteer results are sub-par following the chief executive officer's intervention, the cause is likely the CEO making decisions they are not up fully up to speed on. This is usually an indication the CEO's involvement is better left to a more immediate manager.
  • Widespread Resentment and Low Morale: Sure, there are many reasons why the CEO, staff, and volunteers may not get along or have a good view of each other, but micro-managing is a notable cause of bad feelings. Staff and volunteers need to know they are contributing -- that they bring something to offer to the mix. If the CEO is always second guessing them or downplaying their contributions, morale will suffer and the CEO will become the subject of bitterness that will further deter productivity.


Common Causes of Micro-Managing

Each CEO's exact reasons for micro-managing will differ, but there are some general commonalities to be identified:


  • Afraid of Blame: In their role, a chief executive officer takes on a lot of responsibility for the results others produce. If their staff or volunteers make a mistake, a CEO is ultimately responsible for it. Although this may seem unfair, it is a part of "the buck stops here" nature of the job. Because of this, some CEOs may be too worried about winding up with egg on their face to properly delegate or trust others.
  • Control Freak: Unfortunately, some people make it to the top of the managerial ladder because they have great difficulty relinquishing control to others. No matter how competent or experienced the teams working for them, a control freak does not trust anyone else to get the job done to their satisfaction unless they are making all the decisions personally.
  • Cannot Move On: Something bad previously occurred and the chief executive officer is too afraid of it happening again. This regrettable outcome is due to the CEO trusting someone else or delegating responsibility to someone who dropped the ball, resulting in consequences for the chief executive officer. For whatever reason, their fear of revisiting failure or a mistake keeps them from trusting others to succeed without their immediate oversight and intervention.
  • Poorly Trained: Not everyone becomes a capable leader naturally; there are reasons why business schools and the like offer courses in management. So, the problem could simply be that the CEO does not know how to delegate properly and does not know how to run things without having total control of every maneuver and decision.
  • Axis of Everything: Some top-level managers fall into the trap of buying into their self-importance. If they are not involved in a given decision, no good can come of anything because they know best. They are usually oblivious (or indifferent) to staff and volunteer morale because, to their mind, it is an unreasonable response to the CEO's reasonable need to do everything themselves.

Fixing the problem is easier when you know what the causes are. As such, when planning how to approach a micro-managing chief executive officer, take the time to figure out why they are this way.


How to Course Correct a Micro-Managing CEO

The most important step of getting a micro-managing chief executive officer to change their ways is to get them to admit to the problem in the first place. It is rarely an easy topic to broach, so carefully consider how to proceed. You may need to get all managers or directors together for an "intervention" of sorts, or you may need to go to you Board. Be prepared for denial and perhaps even some backlash, but once your CEO admits to the problem, where do you go from there?


  • Be Responsive to Feedback: It may seem like common sense, but a micro-managing CEO trying to change their ways needs to listen to what others have to say. When they overstep their boundaries, they need their managers to tell them so (and, just as importantly, they have to be willing to listen to such warnings.)
  • Learn to Trust: Without trust in their team leaders and directors, a chief executive officer will not be able to step back and stop micro-managing. They must go over what their teams have accomplished and what their credentials are to remember why those people are in those roles. The experience, talent, skills, and team accomplishments should provide enough confidence and assurance to start letting go of direct control and begin trusting again.
  • Delegate and Strategize More: Just because the goal is to get the CEO micro-managing less doesn't mean they will no longer contribute. The chief executive officer needs to stick with the high, overhead strategy discussions and count on their directors and team leaders to find the means to reach the defined goals. Stop wading into the weeds with everyone else! Teams should report back to the CEO without providing every little detail of what's going on for scrutiny. That is just a waste of the CEO's time (or it should be if there's no more micro-managing going on.)



It's never too early to begin looking ahead, and that means considering going to the 2018 CSAE Symposiums for Chief Staff and Chief Elected Officers. The two events will be taking place in Toronto and Vancouver again in 2018, returning with more invaluable insight and information of the sort that has made this event so popular.




CEO, Governance, Leadership, Troubleshooting


Governance / Leadership



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  • The best investment I made early on in my career was spending two days in an intensive "Effective Delegation" workshop. Not only did I learn "why" I needed to learn this skill set, but I learned how to delegate effectively. As I think back over my career in association management, this one competency was a big contributor to my success: I hired to fill my competency voids, delegated effectively, and held members of my team fairly and objectively accountable for outcomes. They always knew they could come to me for advice if they needed it. I also hold the view that knowing how to delegate effectively helped me hold on to great employees. Wins all the way around!
    5/3/2017 4:43:27 PM Reply
  • I really like this article. In my experience, one reason administrators micromanage is because of fear. Fear of being out of control, fear of failure, and/or fear of being invisible. With coaching ( and not for long either) this pattern is replaced by a pattern of confidence, collaboration and teamwork. The second reason relates to the confusion between teamwork and group work. Once they understand the difference, it is amazing to see the positive changes which occur.
    4/30/2017 8:18:40 AM Reply

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