Project Management

Are You a Mentor…or a Micromanager?

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Are You a Mentor…or a Micromanager?


By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP

A few years ago, I joined a new team and took over some projects from the team’s manager (let’s call him Alex). Alex was helpful: He participated in all of the meetings I conducted, was available to give me advice, explained former issues he faced to help me anticipate problems, and supported me during meetings when my answers were not correct. In this new role, I lacked self-confidence—and it was a great relief to feel helped and supported.

The conflicts came a few months later when Alex didn’t change his behavior after I had gained knowledge and confidence. He wanted to take part in all of the meetings; I told him I wanted to manage by myself and contact him when I needed help. “Why?” he answered. “What is the problem if I take part?”

I didn’t know how to reply. I felt like he wanted to deliver projects with me (which is what he did most of his life before becoming a manager). He also wanted to learn and see how I handled things. When he was in the meetings with me, even if he didn’t say much, I felt like I didn’t have any wiggle room.

On the other side, he complained a lot of being overloaded, and he was late with managing administrative tasks.

As a manager, as a mentor, as a mentee and as a project manager, how do you find the right balance between mentoring and micromanaging? Here are some simple strategies I’ve observed—and am trying to practice myself:

1. Set ground rules. Talk with your manager or your mentor about the ground rules. You can ask: Are there weekly check-ins? Shadowing opportunities? What’s the frequency? What if I think you’re too intrusive?

If your mentor is also your leader, you can also enquire about how he/she usually onboards people.

You also need to clarify your needs…

  • As a mentee and team member: When there is a technical issue, do you need the leader to jump in, or do you prefer some time to think and find paths you can share and discuss?
  • As a mentor and a leader: If you love mentoring, perhaps you can have several mentees or be part of corporate or external programs. If you love keeping your fingers on the projects, perhaps you can volunteer for other projects. Do you really need to have all the technical details?

I always remember an excellent manager I had—when there was an issue, he asked general questions to help me step back and see the big picture. It was a very helpful strategy.

Mentoring is a gift—but can become a burden if the mentor’s help overlaps your responsibilities.

2. Agree about the volume of information to share. I love helping and sharing information. When there is a new team member or mentee, I send several emails with a lot of information to pave the path—well, that is what I think, anyway.

But I sometimes got feedback like this: Which email should I look at? There is too much information. I prefer receiving information when I need it.

It reveals a blind spot for me: Not all people work like me, and some colleagues need information on a different cadence—and not all at once.  People can feel stressed when they receive too much information, like they’re unable to keep up with the onslaught of emails. Some perceive me as invasive.

When I remember Alex, I try to refrain from guiding too much. I need to let people decide what to do with the informationand get back to me when they want to. I need to talk openly about how and when to share information; provide information when it’s required; and not inundate people without discussing it.

3. Know your boundaries—and accept the boundaries of others. As a leader and mentor, you must acknowledge the needs of your teams. If you love explaining and helping, perhaps you can invest this energy into volunteering or blogging.

You also must accept your team members' needs to explore first, to make up their own minds and make mistakes, which is all part of the learning process. Have an open mind; listen to their worries and issues, and be ready to help when needed.

By doing so, you will encourage your team members not to hide or downplay problems—and to learn from their mistakes. You also carve out your position as a role model. This is not a one-off exercise, but it’s worth the effort.

Mentors and micromanagers encompass two different behaviors, but can overlap when we don’t realize it. By mentoring too closely—even through goodwill—you can undermine a person’s performance, their well-being and, ultimately, their growth.

Have you been—or experienced—a micromanaging mentor? Share your comments below.


Posted by Yasmina Khelifi on: July 08, 2022 07:47 AM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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In your case study, Alex started as a coach but failed to make the transition to being a mentor.

A coach is there to help you gain specific skills, while a mentor is there to help you achieve your goals. A coach is hands-on while a mentor helps you in your thinking.

Dear Yasmina

The topic that you brought to our reflection and debate was very interesting.

Thanks for sharing and for your ideas.

Sometimes it is important to clarify the concepts, with particular reference to mentoring and coaching and, by the way, to micromanagement.

Hi Luis and Stephane thank you for your feedback. Well the manager I referred to played also a role of mentor (or wanted to).
At any rate unfortunately he was more a micromanager than a mentor or a coach:)

I have always found that the supervisor/mentor is a challenging mix - one does neither well while your junior/mentee becomes confused.

A mentor should not be in the direct line of authority as it becomes difficult to differentiate between direction and counseling.

In my organization, the micromanagers are also the bottlenecks for our projects. It's a difficult situation to be in. Thanks for the insightful article - it's nice to know one is not alone in this type of situation.

Simple, yet really good tips!

Thank you Valerie, Marithupandi and Peter for your great feedback. Stay safe!


Thank you Mansour!

I really admire how you share your experiences through personal real-life situations and exposing areas flagged under the name of "Tacit Knowledge". I personally find your participations really helpful. Thank you for that 😊

good text, I always set ground rules whenever I manage a project

Thank you Islam and Roberto

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