The Case for Micro-Leading

It seems as if I’m always learning something more about leadership. If there is one thing about leadership that I learn almost everyday it’s that I have a lot to learn when it comes to leading.


If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you’ll know my thoughts on micro-managing. It does great harm, to the person being micro-managed, to their organization, and even at times to the micro-manager


People resist being managed and they super resist being micro-managed. Micro-managing causes the micro-managed person to feel that they are not trusted even though that’s often not the case. Many times a micro-manager trusts their people and believes they are actually helping them. It’s not meant to be hurtful, it is in fact meant to be helpful. 


Regardless of their motives micro-managers are not helpful in the long-run. 


I am a firm believer in delegating tasks and empowering your people to take the reins. Let them work through the details and learn more than they ever would by being micro-managed. In the long-run it could be better for the organization. 




You can delegate a task but as a leader you cannot delegate the responsibility for it being successfully accomplished


Which brings us to what I’ve learned lately. Given the choice between a well meaning leader who micro-manages their people, or a well meaning leader who empowers their people with little or no supervision, I’m going with the micro-manager every time


Despite my recent discovery I still refuse to acknowledge that micro-managing may have a place in the development of people. So I’m going to coin a new term and call it micro-leading. Here is the difference between micro-managing and micro-leading. 


If you’re closely managing someone only for your benefit or for the benefit of the organization then it’s micro-managing. If you’re closely supervising someone for their own development and learning then it’s micro-leading


Why you do something matters. Motives matter. 


Now, for those of you who think that the leader who sets their people free to find their own way has terrific motives I would say that you are likely correct. Except that successful leadership requires more, much more, than pure motives. 


Authentic Leaders cannot risk the good of the many for the development of one or even several people. Their first responsibility is to the entire organization. That requires them to find the balance between too much supervision and too little. Because of that awesome responsibility to the many I would have to suggest erring on the side of too much. 


It’s great when a leader can trust the judgment of their people but leaders must also understand that good judgment often comes from experience. If your people lack that experience then it’s not micro-managing to question their judgment, it’s micro-leading


Authentic Leaders “loan” their experience to their people until they have enough experience of their own. It’s only then that an experienced leader will allow them more freedom to use their own informed judgment to make great decisions


The good of the many must be foremost in the mind of a leader. It may cause the development of future leaders to be slower than they would like but if you’re in it for the long haul it’s the only way to go

13 thoughts on “The Case for Micro-Leading

  1. I love this! Micro-leading- great term. Micro- leading is a great term to share with others so they understand the bigger picture of your intentions.

  2. Having worked for empowering leaders and micro managers, I’ll take empowering leaders every time. One of my greatest times of development was when I was promoted to a job for which I was unqualified. My boss saw enough character in me to trust me to learn and even make important decision. He gave me my lead and I went to him when needed, though frankly it wasn’t that often. I made some wrong decisions and maybe he should have a little more involved, but man, did I learn a lot. And most of all, I loved it! I was engaged and happy to come to work. My experience with micro managers has been the opposite.

  3. What happens when I feel like I am being micro managed as the leader themselves dont want to let go of their control.. And eventually follow the same path that I was but want to forefront every situation for their own benefit and lesser for the org and for my /team development? How would I as a person being micro managed understand the real motive? Open conversations? But do these really help in reality?

    1. Open conversation almost always work, so long as it is also truthful conversation. Does the person micromanaging you know how you feel? If not then have that conversation with them.

  4. I type faster than I think so here is an edited version since one cannot delete a comment.

    When I coach leaders in organizations and we discuss the fine points of successful delegation one of those points is creating, in advance, check-in points with the employee. For example, completion of key milestones or complicated tasks. Depending on the situation it may be a weekly 10 minute check-in. That this is decided in advance with the input and agreement of the employee precludes the feeling of being micro-managed and the leader remains in a position to help assure a positive outcome (which, as you pointed out, is their responsibility).

    1. Thanks David, that’s a great idea. Indeed, making the”check-in” a standard practice eliminates the feeling of distrust. I would say creating that feeling of not being trusted is the number one downside of micro-managing.

  5. I use Star Trek examples at times in my work with my clients. A great example of the negative implications of micro-managing and what happens when one stops can be found in “Star Trek: Voyager” Nightingale, Season 7, episode 8. Free viewing via Amazon Prime if one has access.

  6. Micro-leading, with its focus on the success of the person you’re leading, is a great term — thank you for that!

    I would add that, as Ken Blanchard points out in his Situational Leadership model, the degree of micro-engagement a person needs to be successful depends on their development level. Someone who is learning something new requires more hand-holding than someone with a lot of experience. So we need to calibrate our engagement to the needs of the person we’re leading, based on what they need to be successful. One-size-fits-all leadership isn’t leadership at all.

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