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Be Clear: 3 Steps to Manage Without Micromanaging Your Practice Staff

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Discover 3 steps to manage without micromanaging practice staff to improve office morale, increase creative problem-solving, and reduce employee turnover.

Be Clear: 3 Steps to Manage Without Micromanaging Your Practice Staff
Early in my leadership career, I was a textbook micromanager. I hovered at the front desk, cleaned trays in the lab, reorganized the contact lens room…and reorganized it again, because I didn’t like the first reorganization.
I was always everywhere. I was a great manager—or so I thought—until one day when one of my front desk staff asked me if we could talk. Once in my office, Dee was very direct.
She asked why I kept sitting at the front desk. I told her I wanted to make sure that the team knew that I was available to help and willing to get my hands dirty to do what needed to be done.
She smiled and explained that my constant presence was only serving to slow everyone down and confuse the staff. It caused staff members to second-guess themselves because I kept coming behind them and changing things. They didn’t feel like I trusted them to do their jobs.
Dee taught me some valuable lessons that day that I applied for the rest of my career.

What is micromanaging?

First, what exactly does the term “micromanaging” mean? The general consensus definition of a micromanager is a leader who controls their employees in a manner viewed as domineering. They centralize decision-making to mitigate risks.1
A leader who micromanages focuses on controlling every detail of employee behavior and performance rather than managing their productivity and growth. Extreme micromanagers behave pathologically, refusing to accept personal responsibility or accountability and creating scapegoats to blame for their own mistakes.2
This may lead to some temporary success, but will ultimately have a cascading effect on individual staff members and the practice as a whole. Research has shown that this leadership style hinders collaboration by making employees overcritical and contentious towards their peers.3

Common behaviors of micromanagers:4,5

  • Scrutinizes every action.
  • Always pushes back deadlines.
  • Excessively requests updates.
  • Is never entirely satisfied with others’ work.
  • Disputes insignificant details.
  • Fights against decision-making autonomy.
  • Takes pride in correcting others’ mistakes.
  • Possesses a “my way or the highway” view.
  • Demands to sign off on every stage of a project.
  • Laser focuses on the task at hand, not the bigger picture.
  • Only works to develop employee skills to meet the immediate task.
  • Refuses to make even the smallest changes to their protocol.
  • Creates processes/workflows that cannot advance without their presence.
  • Hire under-qualified staff to train to "do it the right (their) way."

Strategies to manage practice staff without micromanaging

1. Be clear about expectations

Good managers are good communicators who know how to clearly define rules, roles, and responsibilities for the required work outcomes, and then allow individuals the opportunity to perform tasks at their own discretion.
Employees should understand exactly when and how performance reviews will take place and should be given enough time between performance feedback episodes to implement the desired changes and feel autonomous in their work.2
One way to enforce a feeling of independence is to take the time to teach staff how to solve problems on their own, knowing there will always be new problems to solve.
Managing is monitoring, therefore you should create a monitoring plan. This plan will make it clear what your expectations are, what you will monitor, and when you will be monitoring. I used the ROLE template to delegate tasks and responsibilities to my teams.6

The ROLE method:

  • Responsibility: Give each staff member a clear list of responsibilities.
  • Ownership: Ensure they understand ownership of these tasks is fully theirs.
  • Larger Purpose: Explain the larger purpose and how the components of their job impact the broader mission and success of the company.
  • Expectations: Define the desired short-term outcomes for the role as well as longer-term goals by building a professional growth plan for each employee.
There should be no ambiguity regarding their goals, how you will be measuring success, or when you will be following up on their progress. However, it is also important that you make it clear that they can come to you with any problem.

When employees do seek guidance:

  • Ask them questions about their problem.
  • Have them walk through their thinking process.
  • Walk through your own process.
It is also important that you listen and learn from your team. Leading is learning—this mutual learning will lead to trust, and trust leads to retention.2

2. Take a walk

On the opposite extreme of the micromanager is the manager who disappears for long stretches to leave the team to figure it all out on their own without guidance. Not wanting to fall into this category often compels individuals to fear that if they aren’t always on the floor or at the front desk helping, their team will think they are lazy and ineffective.
Over the years I learned how to be present, but not pester. An effective way to be present is to have a timed walk through the office without lingering in one spot. Every day I would just do a brief walk at 9:00am after our morning huddle, just before leaving for lunch, and in the evening just before leaving for the day.
I would make eye contact and say “Hi,” but I didn’t stop to make conversation. These walks are to gauge the vibes of the office. If someone wants to talk or they have a question, they will stop you. Over time, staff will come to know when to expect you to walk and they hold on to questions they may have for you on your walk.
You can learn a lot just by walking and listening. This is a variation of the Gemba Walk found in Lean training. The difference here is that instead of actively asking questions to learn, you are listening to learn and providing your team with informal access to ask you questions.

3. Hire competent learners

Due to their own insecurities, micromanagers often hire bots incapable of working independently. This means that they must work even harder because bots take more work to manage than industrious workers. The easiest way to break the cycle of micromanaging is by hiring people with a history of learning, adapting, and working independently.
That doesn’t mean that you only hire college graduates with an MBA to schedule appointments. Learners come from all walks of life and experiences. Some of my best hires weren’t college graduates when they started the job but understood how they processed new information and were willing to adapt to change.

Interview questions to assess learning ability:7

  • What is something you taught yourself on the job in a previous position?
  • Can you describe your process of learning something new?
  • What is something you plan to learn for this job?
  • Tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you had never done before. How did you react? What did you learn?
  • Tell me about the biggest change you’ve had to deal with? How did you adapt to that change?
  • Recall a time when you were assigned a task outside of your job description. How did you handle the situation? What was the outcome?


Research strongly suggests that bosses are often complicit in an employee’s lack of success. Leaders who micromanage can create a dynamic that perpetuates their employees’ failure.
This eventually hurts the practice morale, reduces creative solutions to problem-solving, and drives turnover. Micromanagement can have a reverse Pygmalion effect, with individuals performing down to lower expectations rather than living up to great ones.7
A good leader is clear in their expectations and takes the time to train their team. They are present without pestering and look to hire people who show a willingness to learn and grow.
  1. Gardanova Z, Nikitina N, Strielkowski W. “Critical leadership and set-up-to-fail syndrome.” 4th International Conference on Social, Business, and Academic Leadership (2019), Atlantis Press.
  2. White RD. The Micromanagement Disease: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Cure. Public Pers Manag. 2010;39(1):71-76. doi:
  3. Birdi K, Leach D, Magadley W. The relationship of individual capabilities and environmental support with different facets of designers' innovative behavior. J Prod Innov Manag. 2016;33(1):19-35. doi:10.1111/jpim.12250
  4. Kurter HL. 4 Signs Your Boss Is A Micromanager And How To Challenge Them. Forbes. Published February 20, 2021.
  5. Herrity J. Micromanager Definition: 25 Signs and How To Deal With One. Indeed. Published July 31, 2023.
  6. Johnson G. Let’s Get This Settled: 3 Conflicts that Affect Every Eyecare Practice. Eyes On Eyecare. Published February 22, 2024.
  7. LinkedIn. 30 behavioral interview questions to assess soft skills. LinkedIn.
  8. Manzoni JF, Barsoux JL. The set-up-to-fail syndrome. Harvard Business Review. Published March-April 1998.
Gerard Johnson, MS
About Gerard Johnson, MS

Gerard is a writer, trainer, and leader who has over 20 years of healthcare experience. He has managed optometry, ophthalmology, family medicine, and urgent care practices throughout his career. Gerard currently works as a Practice Improvement Consultant in Atlanta, Georgia.

Gerard Johnson, MS
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