The Corporate Shrink

A boss with more than work on her mind.

By Kerry J. Sulkowicz
Featured on FastCompany

One of my company’s owners micromanages to the point where even the other owners feel shut out. He tells employees when to eat, what to have on their desks, and whom to talk to. We like the company because of the people–but it’s hard to enjoy working for such a boss. How do you handle this style? (issue 83, page 48)

Micromanagers crave control, and giving it up makes them anxious. They believe their own abilities are second to none. While such bosses may give lip service to good management, their fundamental insecurity squelches the development of their employees and is ultimately demoralizing and bad for business. When a micromanager is an owner, it’s even worse.

Before abandoning ship, try giving your boss some tactful feedback. How you say it makes all the difference. If you come across as rebellious or resisting control, you’ll just make him want to tighten his grip. Instead, talk about your own need to grow and to be given more authority, or your concern about the department’s morale.

Nobody likes hearing that he’s controlling, but you’ll have better luck appealing to his ego as a leader rather than casting it as criticism.

If that gets you nowhere, you and your colleagues need to enlist the support of the other owners. As painfully obvious as the micromanagement is to you, this guy’s partners may be willing to overlook his problem if their financial results aren’t suffering. So bring it up in the context of your department’s isolation, with concrete examples of how things could be better if you were given more freedom.

Finally, ask yourself if your group is giving this fellow reasons for acting the way he does. Is your work below par? Are you trying, unconsciously or not, to undermine him? You may be part of the problem. Don’t make an insecure boss even more so.

Her pants are skintight, her blouses open down to here. She’s hot–but the problem is, she’s my boss. When we’ve gone out for drinks after work, she has made it clear that she’s available. It’s dangerous, but it’s tempting. What’s your take?

Do you want my take or are you asking for my permission? Since you already know it’s risky to get involved with your boss, there’s more to your question than meets the eye–though what meets the eye apparently tickles your fancy.

The psychology of seducer and seduced involves more than just cleavage and testosterone. In your case, the power dynamics–the fantasy of having sex with your boss–may be the real driver, and it may represent a wish from childhood to control or tame your mother (sorry to take the steam out of your jeans, buddy).

Ask yourself why you’re tempted to open yourself up to exploitation or harassment. I’m not moralizing here–I find that unhelpful, not to mention boring. But aside from trying to master some sort of traumatic experience you’ve had with an authority figure before, could living out this fantasy also serve as a titillating distraction from whatever you’re supposed to be doing in your office? As for what makes your boss tick, my bet is that she appears more sexually open and free than she really is. Her behavior is a defense against underlying fears about intimacy, or even about her competency on the job. My advice? Enjoy the view, but get back to work.

Dr. Kerry J. Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and founder of The Boswell Group LLC, advises executives on leadership, management, and governance. Send him your questions about the psychology of business (