Micro managers are a pain in what you sit on. Actually, they are not managers at all, they are controllers. To suggest that micromanagement and good leadership or management are one in the same is, at best, spurious.

The great irony about “micromanaging leaders”  — aside from the fact that the term is an oxymoron — is that in day-to-day operations they actually have very little control over what happens, including preventing situations that reflect badly on the organization.

There are three leadership takeaways from this post:

  1. If you treat someone well, give them great care and service, they will probably tell one or two people.
  2. If you do something bad to a customer they will tell 10 people, on average, and those 10 will tell 10 others. In other words, bad news about questionable service spreads exponentially.
  3. Those bad word-of-mouth reports can be counter productive for investments in advertising and marketing, especially in a small town.


My mother, throughout her life, was an ardent letter writer. A member of the Greatest Generation, she wrote to friends near and far as a teenager. She wrote to my dad every week for the three years he was in the Pacific during World War II. When her sons went off to college — well, two of three made it — she would write to us every week. Some of her letters were funny, some were rehashes of previous events, and all included a comment or two on the weather. She was like that; I never received a letter without the first paragraph devoted to the weather. I guess it became a habit when writing to my father overseas.

In the hundreds of letters that I received from my Mom, there is one that, to this day, stands out.

THE Letter

I was living in Houston at the time, working for Hermann Hospital’s Affiliated Hospital Systems group. My mother and father were retired and living in a small lakeside community. He suffered from chronic pulmonary obstruction disease.

My Dad had developed a fever and his primary care physician, not wanting to take any chances, admitted him to the local community hospital. It was an aging facility with a bad reputation in the area — for both care and service. The Administrator was an old-school tyrant with the reputation for being a control freak and micromanager. Some of the snarky long-time locals referred to the hospital as the “quack shack.”

This hospital had been leased by a regional health system a year earlier and they were preparing to build a replacement facility. Because of a low census and terrible community perceptions, the regional system had been pouring copious amounts of money — really serious money — into the town for marketing — billboards, news and radio adverts, all extolling the improved care and service. As my mother reported, there were billboards on almost every corner of this town of 11,000. Apparently they were serious about changing the public’s perception.

Her letter was devoted to her observations about the daily hospital routines as well as the people who worked there.

After several days of IV antibiotics, Dad was ready to be discharged, my mother wrote, but the doctor wanted to get some final tests, including a CT, so they held him over one more night. He was to be NPO (no food by mouth) beginning at midnight. Unfortunately, dietary did not get the memo and my father was presented a tray loaded with a hearty breakfast. Feeling so much better, he wolfed down his eggs, bacon and toast, chased it with orange juice and coffee. My mother arrived just as he was finishing. She sat the tray by her chair. At that very moment, the RN entered the room. Spying the dietary tray she remarked, according to Mom’s letter, “Oh, Mrs. Self, how lovely. You had breakfast with us today.” Nope, Mom replied, “My husband had breakfast.”

A look of alarm trending to horror spread across the nurse’s face. “Oh, this is not good, this is really bad. Oh, no. Oh no!” Her voice rising, the nurse abruptly left the room, Mom wrote. My father, affected by the nurse’s outburst, thinking something truly bad was about to happen, began to panic a bit, which led to a mighty coughing fit and, of course, that led to labored breathing.

Mom continued: “After a long wait, a very, very long wait, the nurse finally returned to explain that, according to doctor’s orders, he should not have been given anything to eat or drink. She reported the doctor was “pissed off” so they would delay getting additional lab studies until his next office visit but they would go ahead with the CT scan, which was located on a truck, parked on a pad, “out back,” Mom continued.

Then the CT technician appeared, “dressed in a nice little white lab coat loaded with buttons and pens.

“As the nurse and I were helping your father get settled in the wheel chair for the journey out back to the scanner, I noticed that the CT tech reached into her back pocket of her starched bluejeans and took out a can of snuff and then she put a rather sizable pinch between her cheek and gum.

“As we were rolling down the wood walkway to the CT truck, she and your Dad were talking when the technician began to spit the juice from the snuff.”

So much for the CEO’s micromanaging style and all of that money invested in advertising. Bad news spreads fast, especially when a letter writer is involved.

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