by Jim Bruce
Most of us would disavow being a micromanager. Yet, I’m sure that most of us (dare I say, all of us?) have micromanaged to some extent at some points in our lives. I know that I have. And, most of us at some point have had a micromanager as our manager. David Allen, popular author and productivity consultant best known for his methodology “Getting Things Done,” suggests that most successful people he’s known could be characterized as “highly creative control freaks.” Most of us would call these individuals “micromanagers.”
We properly desire to protect the work that we are responsible for. We are motivated for it to be done well, correctly in our mind, and certainly on time. However, overly protecting and controlling can be our downfall. Since we cannot do it all, we have to grow and mature our team and the systems they use or else the work doesn’t get done. To do this, we have, first, to learn to trust our team and then work to build that trust. You do this by creating a system and working it, so you can let go of lower level work, without letting go of the bigger picture of what you’re trying to accomplish. You build a trust-worthy system that you can trust.
As we think about our managing, and how we likely do some micromanaging, it is helpful to ask what micromanaging looks like.
Muriel Maigman Wilkins provides four sets of signs that we might look for:
Yes, when you are managing it is important to make sure that the work is done with skill, to the expected specifications, and on time. It is easy to believe that these activities – day-to-day interaction at the lowest level of the work – are necessary for you to receive work from your team that meets your standards of excellence. However, unless your team members are really slacking off, not trained in what the job requires be done, not motivated, etc., such an in-your-face-all-the-time approach is not required. The leader needs to be more strategic. To get out of the weeds. To let go of the details and trust your team to handle them.
In fact, a micromanaging approach negatively impacts your team, your organization, and yourself. It tanks individual and team morale. Productivity takes a hit. And, your team’s growth and learning is negatively impacted. You dilute your own productivity and you run out of capacity to get important things done. So much for this being a winning approach.
Once you come to the conclusion that you are a micromanager or have tendencies to micromanage, and that you need to do something about it, what might you do? Four suggestions:
Many workers who work for micromanagers become timid and tentative, possibly paralyzed, thinking, no matter what I do, it won’t be good enough. At that point either the worker asks for guidance or forges ahead and possibly fails in the eyes of the manager.
An effective manager sets up those around him or her to succeed, not fail. They set up the tasks so that the workers succeed and grow in their ability to take a project, identify new information they need, seek that information, and move forward.
What can the micromanaged do to help the micromanager?
We all became managers and leaders from a time when we were individual contributors and team members. In those roles we either were told what to do or figured it out on our own. Both those situations set us up for being a micromanager. If we were always told what to do, it’s natural for us to tell our team members what to do in excruciating detail. If we figured it out for ourselves, we want to save our team from having to waste time figuring it out, so we tell them what to do.
As I’ve argued in this essay this is wrong both for you and for the team. It’s demoralizing, leads to disappointment for you, and low performance for the team. Take the time this week to review how you assign work to your team and if there is any element of “micro” in it, begin the work of changing. Make it a great week for you and your team.
. . . . jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
David Allen, Are you Micromanaging Your Mind?, gettingthingsdone Blog, August 2007.
Muriel Maigman Wilkins, Signs That You’re a Micromanager, Harvard Business Review, November 2014.
MindTools Content Team, Avoiding Micromanagement: Helping Team Members Excel – On their Own, MindTools.com.
Caterina Kostoula, Stress Is Making You Micromanage, Which Is Making Everything Worse, FastCompany, October 2017.
Forbes Coaches Council, Micromanaging? Here’s How (And Why) You Should Stop, Forbes.com.