“The more you use your reins, the less they’ll use their brains” – The Horse Whisperer
This is going to be a post about a killer of professional development, micromanagement. But before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s begin with a basic definition of the topic.
“Micromanagement is a style of management that is characterized by an excessive need for
control and extreme attention to even apparently trivial details.”
Most leaders would accept the above definition as reasonable. Most micromanages would take issue with the term “excessive.” Therein lies the problem.
No one really thinks of the words “excessive” and “extreme” as positive. They bring to mind things like police brutality, abuse or worse. When used to describe a management style, many people envision a boss who has made it a goal to make the lives their direct reports miserable. That’s why so many people have a terrible reaction to being micromanaged and usually cite it as one of the worst management dysfunctions.
Here’s what real micromanagement looks like:
The manager tells direct reports what to do, how to do it and when to do it, giving no latitude to the employee. All decisions, no matter how small, must go through the manager. Delegation of authority is restricted or totally absent, this results in direct reports spending more time reporting on progress than making progress. The “guidance” provided by the manager generally offers minimal incremental value, for instance, nitpicking comments regarding grammatical or typographical errors on documents.
While micromanagement can be caused by a variety of issues it is most commonly just a learned set of negative behaviors that must be unlearned. It is not an easy change to make but it can be accomplished over time with some professional coaching and a serious commitment to make the necessary changes.
Whether you believe the definition I’ve provided you should make no mistake about this: micromanagers literally massacre the morale, motivation and growth of their people. I don’t think there is a worse problem in business today. Leaders who insist on micromanaging are very limited leaders. They have put good people in place but they refuse to turn them lose to excel.
When managers attempt to control every situation, employees become de-motivated (after all, they know their work is going to be scrutinized and reworked by the manager anyway, so why bother trying?) and more importantly, they fail to learn and adapt to new situations, since it is never truly up to them to succeed or fail. This will negatively affect their long-term ability to contribute to the team and ultimately the success of the organization.
Here’s the biggest problem of all with micromanaging; it cripples the development of future leaders. When you as a leader feel that you must control every decision and process you are not developing future leaders. When you fail to develop future leaders you miss the opportunity to experience explosive growth within your organization.
You cannot experience explosive growth in your organization by developing more obedient followers, you must grow more leaders. Leaders DO NOT grow in micromanaged environments.
If you’re not growing leaders then you’re not growing your organization, as least not as fast as you could. You simply must learn to let go. Risk letting your people make some mistakes, they may even learn from them. Maybe they will find a better way than your way (yes, it is possible) of doing something and you can learn too.
If you’re any type of authentic leader then you need to trust that you’ve put the right people in the right spots. If you believe in yourself then you’ll believe in your people. If you can’t do that then you might be able to manage your people but you cannot truly lead them.
Let go to lead!
There are many differences between the mindset of a leader and the mindset of a manager. Here’s a big one: Managers see a team member not performing at the required standards and think “I need to SPEND more time ON that person. Leaders see that same person and think “I need to INVEST more time WITH that person.
The actions that result from those two mindsets make all the difference in the world when it comes to the development of that person.
Before we get too far let me point out that I’m not picking on managers here. We need managers, good ones and lots of them. It’s just that “stuff” is what’s managed, stuff like budgets, buildings, and policies. People however cannot and will not be managed, they must be led and that calls for a leader.
Leading people requires time. It takes a commitment to set aside some of the seemingly urgent tasks to focus on the all important responsibility of leading and developing people. If you see your people as an “expense” then you are not likely to make the required commitment. If you see your people as an investment then you likely will.
As a leader do you intentionally set aside time, perhaps by going so far as to make an appointment on your calendar, to work with and along side your people? Do you use this time to actually perform leadership actions? Actions such as coaching, motivating, listening and modeling the behavior that leads to success.
Or do you simply tell yourself you’ll do that in your free time or maybe your spare time. Take a look at your calendar and see exactly where that “free” or “spare” time is….. it’s not there. That’s why effective leaders really do block time on their calendars for leadership actions. They intentionally make it a point to recognize someone each and every day. They set aside time to just listen to their people, about whatever it is their people want to say to them.
Yes, I know you’re busy, I hope your productive, I really hope you know the difference, but no matter how busy or productive you are if you’re serious about leading then you must make the time to actually lead. It doesn’t just happen, you as a leader must make it happen.
The reality of leadership is this: if you don’t have time to invest in your people then you don’t have time to succeed as a leader.
“We’ve always done it that way” is just about the worst possible reason for doing almost anything.
If you’re going to lead effectively then you’re going to need to know exactly why you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing. What’s worked for a long time, even if it’s still working, may not be the best way of doing it anymore.
If you’re a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” kind of leader or a “don’t reinvent the wheel” type then I have question for you: How are those stone wheels on that hot new car working out for you? The fact is some of the best inventions ever made were just improvements on stuff that was working good enough.
Leaders can get stuck in ruts just like anyone else, it’s just that the consequences tend to be greater when it happens to them. That’s why the most effective leaders are always looking for a fresh perspective on pretty much everything they do. They know what is, what they really want to know is, what’s possible.
Here are a few ideas to shift your thinking from the “is” to the “could be.”
Look at your situation, issue or challenge from someone else’s point of view. If you were a six-year-old child, what would you see? If you were a fighter pilot, or a hippie in the ‘60s, or a prisoner of war, how would things look different then?
Describe the situation in writing. It’s amazing what we see when we see it in black and white. Draw it out on a white board, do a flow chart of your process (you maybe didn’t even realize there was a process) and consider every little thing. Assume nothing and leave nothing to chance.
Take a gigantic step away from the situation and ask yourself these questions: How does this situation fit into the larger scheme of things? What are the consequences of the consequences of what I’m thinking of doing. How does it affect want I’m trying to achieve in life? Does it “fit” with the values I have for my life and my organization? How will I feel about it in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years?
Ask for the opinion of someone very different than you. You won’t learn much from someone who thinks a lot like you or from someone with a similar background as yours. Remember, a fresh perspective will likely be a different perspective than the one you currently have. It’s okay if you don’t like it or don’t agree with it, you can get an even fresher one tomorrow.
Stay curious. Curiosity may have killed the cat but it can save a leader their career. Never stop asking “why do we do this” and “how can we do it better.” There has never been a leader who thrived on auto-pilot, don’t kid yourself, you’re not likely to be the first.
Wait. I’m admittedly terrible at this one. I’m perpetually in a hurry to “get it done.” But it’s amazing how different things can look from one day to the next. Maybe even from one hour to the next. I can’t tell you the number of times I could have done something better by just practicing this simply principle. Wait.
Now, having said that, let me remind you, there is a big difference between productive waiting and productivity destroying procrastination. Effective leaders know the difference.
Leadership is perishable, if we don’t constantly fertilize and freshen it with new thoughts, new insights, new ideas and new practices it can become stale pretty quickly. Have you checked the “freshness date” on your leadership lately?
Know it or not, wherever you work, you represent that company to outsiders. It matters little if you’re at the top of the org chart or even at the very bottom. If you’re one of the only people they know at your company then for all intense and purposes YOU ARE the company.
The reputation of the entire organization can rest on your shoulders.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re in the market for a Flat Panel TV before the big game on Sunday. You swing into XYZ electronics, a large national electronics chain store and pick out a gigantic 196 inch beauty. It has surround sound and some sort of shaking device so you can actually feel it when players hit the ground. It is simply awesome!
You have your friends over on Sunday and since you’ve been bragging up your 196 beast of a TV they too can hardly wait for the game to begin. You push the ON button and nothing happens. Nothing. You push it a few more times, still nothing and then the hoots and hollers of your “friends” begin.
Ha they say, that sure is one heck of a TV you got there. You are embarrassed and more than a little mad. So…. You call the XYZ store and as luck would have it you get a 16 year old kid on the phone who is absolutely disinterested in your problem. He tells you it would be best if you called back on Monday when the “TV guy” was in.
Now you’re VERY unhappy and you’re not going to be happy with that store, or that kid, anytime soon.
A couple of weeks later someone asks if you know of a good store to buy a TV. So what do you say? Do you say, “yes, XYZ is great, just look out for that 16 year old kid” or… do you say “don’t go near that XYZ outfit, “they” don’t have a clue what they are doing.
If you’re like me, and most people, you wouldn’t have anything good to say about anything that has anything to do with XYZ or it’s 50,000 employees around the country.
Because of one 16 year old kid. Who didn’t even sell you the TV.
It’s not fair that the whole organization is painted with the brush of one individual interaction but that’s often how it is.
You see, you not only represent your company, you also represent your fellow employees of the company. You may not be in Public Relations, you may not get paid to deal with customers but when people discover where you work you DO represent your company. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All day, everyday.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, can’t be yourself, or just “let your hair down.” It does mean that you need to be aware of your surroundings, who is near you, how you are behaving and what you are saying. I’m told there are even some people who have cameras in their phones now so this is doubly important these days. 😏
Whether you think you have a crummy job, a menial job, a low paying job, whether it is a temp job, or part time job doesn’t matter, you have an obligation to represent yourself professionally because it’s not just you that you represent.
You may not like this thought, you may not agree with this concept but you do have to understand it because it’s true. Yes, I know those are high standards but you know that successful people set high standards for themselves. I encourage you to set the bar very high for yourself.
Remember, you don’t guard the reputation of your company and your colleagues because you’re paid money to work there, you do it because it’s the right thing to do.
You’ll never go wrong doing what’s right!
During workshops and talks I’m often asked about what to do when you’ve hired someone who just isn’t measuring up.
Sometimes people actually tell me the person they hired is an idiot.
I tell people don’t be so hard on yourself. They get a bit of a surprised look on their face because they didn’t intend to be hard on themselves. They intended to point out that in their wisdom they, apparently for some reason, purposefully hired an idiot.
The first problem of course is thinking that one of your people is an idiot. Once one of your people knows your low opinion of them they are unlikely to exceed your low expectations. Never ask or expect less from your people than you need or want them to deliver.
I believe that leadership comes with certain responsibilities. If you actually have the audacity and courage to accept the mantle of leadership then you must also be willing to accept the wide range of responsibilities that come with it.
The responsibility to put people in their strengths zone is one example. If you’ve hired someone and they are not getting the job done there are only two possibilities.
You’re not going to like either one.
The first one is that you simply hired the wrong person. Yes, you simply hired the wrong person. If they truly cannot get the job done then why did you hire them? If they didn’t have the skills, knowledge, and experience to successfully complete the requirements of their role then why in the world did you hire them? You must have just hired the wrong person.
The second possibility is that you did hire the right person but you’re not giving them the tools they need to succeed. You, as a leader may not be teaching them the additional skills required to truly excel. Your may not be transferring your additional knowledge and experience to them.
Either way, if you’ve hired someone who is not succeeding it’s your responsibility. When you accept 100% responsibility for the success of your people you begin to grow as a leader.
When you accept 100% responsibility for the success of the people you’ve hired you’ll no longer be so quick to dismiss them with a “they’re an idiot” flick of your tongue. You will stop “spending time on” and start “investing time with” your people.
Now, let me stop a good number of you right now. You’re thinking of a million “excuses” right now why you can’t be held 100% responsible for the success of your people. I’ve heard them all 100’s of times, heck, I’ve used them dozens of times.
Let me also tell you this: if you allow yourself those excuses then the chances of one or more of your people failing goes way way up! Don’t tell yourself that you’ll accept 50% of the responsibility but “they” have to give 50% too. I’ll guarantee you that it’s not a 50-50 proposition because your people will not succeed with you, their leader, giving a 50% effort in helping them develop and succeed. The fact is, when it’s a 100-100 proposition then your people have a great chance at success.
Leadership is a big deal. It’s not just a position, title or concept. It is real, it comes with serious consequential responsibilities. If you can’t handle them, or are unwilling to accept them, then you should reconsider your role as a leader.
There is no harm in choosing not to lead, leadership is not for everyone. The harm comes from accepting the challenge of leadership without the commitment to accept the responsibility of a leader as well.
Leaders can make excuses or they can make more leaders. They can’t do both. What are you making?
I am what I am and that’s all that I am. – Popeye the Sailor
Are you living your own life or are you living the life that other people or some other person, expects you to live?
It’s a big question. If you’re living your life the way you want to live it then you have the opportunity to truly succeed. If you’re living the life of a poser, trying to be something or someone your really not, then despite what you may gain in life you’ll likely have trouble thinking of yourself as a true success.
Popeye had it figured out. He lived his life, his way, and that was that. If that wasn’t “good enough” for someone then they didn’t need to be part of his life. He was perfectly fine with that. No person’s opinion of him mattered more than his own.
That is a pretty healthy way to live.
Now, a few caveats. Living your life your way doesn’t mean you get to ignore all societal norms or the laws of the land. It doesn’t mean you aren’t required to share the planet with all it’s other inhabitants and it doesn’t mean you don’t have to use the resources of the planet responsibly.
Living your life your way just means that you don’t have to “adjust” your core values to meet the expectations of others. It means that you don’t have to look a certain way or believe anything that you don’t want to believe.
It means that you get to be you. It also means you get to have everything that comes with being whoever you want to be. Of course it also may mean that you don’t get to have some things that you might be able to have if you were different than you are. But hey, we all make choices.
No one can take your self-respect unless you’re their accomplice. Other people can think what they want of you but they can’t make you think less or more of yourself … unless you let them. So don’t allow other people to judge you; ignore the haters and naysayers and live the life that you choose for yourself.
Now, here’s the part of the post that’s meant as much for me as it is for anyone else. You might not like the second part of the post as much as the first.
If you’re not going to let other people judge you and you’re going to live your life as YOU see fit then you must stop judging other people and stop trying to get other people to live their life the way you think they should.
You’ll be better off in most every way if you stop judging people and start trying to understand them instead.
The moment you judge someone your judgement about them becomes clouded. You’re using your life experiences and your life values to determine how they should look, act, and behave. But they ain’t you. It’s highly unlikely that they view life through the same lens that you do. It’s their experiences, background, issues, hopes and goals that make them who they are. And they ain’t you!
So stop thinking they should be, or worse, that they need to be. You will find it far easier to accept who you are when you learn to accept others as they are.
Just accept it!
Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. – John F. Kennedy
A leadership position is not a destination. No one should “arrive” at a leadership position and just sit tight. A leadership position does not make you a leader, it merely gives you the opportunity to grow into one.
To grow as a leader you must learn. Continually.
The most successful people learn something new everyday and so do the most effective leaders. It doesn’t have to be an epiphany every day but you should add to your knowledge base each day.
If you want to be a better manager then learn something about stuff, if you’re intent is to become a better leader then learn something about people. Learning something about people in general is good, learning something about your people specifically is great.
Invest time each day to learn what motivates your people. Learn what their goals are, discover their challenges and even more important, how you as a leader might help them overcome those challenges.
The best leaders are not afraid to show the gaps in their knowledge and the very best leaders do not believe it is a weakness to learn from the people they lead. It’s pretty tough to learn when you’re struggling to keep your “I already knew that face” on.
So open your eyes, open your mind and perhaps even open your heart to new discoveries every single day. Never forget this basic leadership fact: when you stop learning you likely stop leading too.
Never stop leading!