Is Micro-Managing Killing Your Business?

So let‘s get this part out of the way early. If you’re a leader who micro-manages your people then you may be in a leadership position but you’re likely not doing much leading.   

 

Leaders who insist on micro-managing have some problems. The first problem is that they are trying to manage people. That doesn’t work. “Stuff” gets managed, people need to be led. I’ve written frequently about the difference between leading and managing so feel free to look back a few posts to see what I mean. 

 

The second problem micro-mangers have is that they believe they must check on every detail. That’s most likely the result of being an insecure leader. Micro-managers tend to base their leadership on a lack of faith and trust in other people. 

 

That’s a huge morale killer. 

 

It leads to little or no growth. It discourages the development of their people. It focuses on problems of detail, many of which are inconsequential. It discourages teamwork. If they micro-manage often enough or long enough and they will kill their business. It might be a long slow death but it’s death all the same.

 

Micro-managers take positive attributes – an attention to detail and a hands-on attitude – to the extreme. Either because they are control-obsessed, or because they feel driven to push everyone around them to success. But they risk disempowering their people. They ruin their confidence. They degrade their performance, and frustrate them to the point where they may quit…or worse, they stay and just disengage.

 

Micro-managers limit each individual’s ability to develop and grow. They also limit what their entire team can achieve, because everything has to go through them.

 

They don’t trust their people or their judgment. They are unwilling to allow them to assume any responsibility. What micro-managers fail to realize is that they are cheating their organizations out of the talent they are paying for.

 

Micro-managing may work for a while but in time it acts like an anchor on all progress. Innovation, new products, and new markets are discouraged because the talent to create and move forward has been derailed by the micro-manager.

 

The inability of micro-managers to “let go” and allow other people make some decisions, even risk failure, ensures that the growth of the organization will be severely limited. It may take years for those limitations to show up but they will eventually show up. When enough people disengage the business dies, slowly perhaps, but it does eventually die.

 

Micro-managing is not about the weakness of the team, it’s about the weakness of the leader.


If you’re a leader that suffers this weakness then you must exercise your leadership skills through effective delegation. Delegation is the single greatest tool for building future leaders. It’s also a great tool to help micro-managers break free from the limitations that come from attempting to do it all themselves.

The Difference in Delegation

Webster’s defines responsibility as: the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something and the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or someone.

Authority is defined as: the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. Another definition says: a person or organization having power or control in a particular, typically political or administrative, sphere. Still another definition says: the right to act in a specified way, delegated from one person or organization to another.

Notice the key differences between the definitions of responsibility and authority. When leaders delegate a task and that delegation fails it is most often because the leader delegated the responsibility to complete the task without also delegating the authority required to accomplish it. 

The person that the task was delegated to is accountable and can be “blamed” for the failure but in reality they had little chance for success because the delegator insisted on holding on to the power, or authority, to actually accomplish the task.

Effective delegation is one of the most productive methods for building future leaders in any leader’s tool box. Unfortunately, many leaders choose simple delegation over effective delegation. 

They don’t have the confidence in their people or themselves to delegate both responsibility and authority for a task.  They make their people responsible for a potential failure without providing them with a major key to delegation success, authority.

What these types of leaders often fail to understand is that their own success is completely dependent upon the success of their people. When they set their people up for potential failure they set themselves up for potential failure as well.

Another thing some leaders fail to understand is that while they can indeed fully delegate the authority required to succeed at a task, responsibility can never be fully delegated. The leader or delegator, will always maintain some responsibility for the task that was previously theirs. 

When leaders covet authority to the degree that they cannot share it they fail at one of their foremost responsibilities: building more leaders. 

I was asked not long ago about the keys to building future leaders. One of the “keys” I answered with was allowing people to fail. Allowing them to fail and also allowing them to “fix” the failure themselves. Let them make a mistake, let them figure out what the mistake was. Let them figure out how it was made and how it can be fixed and avoided the next time. Let them do all this with you as their leader along side them to coach and support, not DO. Help them find their success so that they will know how to succeed when you’re not there to coach and support them.

None of that “figuring out” will likely happen if they don’t have the authority to “fix” the mistake as well.

Do you trust your leadership ability enough to trust the people you lead? Do you have the confidence to share your own authority so your next generation of leaders will one day have the confidence to share it too?

How you answer those two questions will go along way towards determining whether you’re building a compliant following or you’re building committed leaders. 

Stop Micromanaging Today!

Congratulations! You have completed the seven step delegation process we discussed in my last post. You’re sitting back and anxiously waiting for the task to be completed successfully and on time. 

If you have fully followed the process, not skipped any steps and are certain the delegation plan would achieve the desired results then you just might have a chance at a successful outcome.

Might! 

I say might because even with a sound delegation process and perfectly executed plan success is not guaranteed. In fact, there are three possible outcomes to even the best delegation process and only one of them equals true success.

The first possibility is that you “buy back” the delegation. It works like this: the person you delegated the task to comes to you with a question. You, for some reason, are too busy to lead at the moment so you tell the person “you’ll take care of it” and presto, you just bought it back. With this outcome you’ve accomplished nothing. The  person you’ve delegated to now has reason to doubt their ability and the next time the task needs to be done you will more likely than not be the person doing it.

The next possibility is that you put the delegation in limbo. It works like this: the person comes to you with a question about the plan. You tell them that you will get back to them but you never do. The delegation is now in limbo. When you have your follow-up meeting they tell you the task is not complete because you never got back to them.

All you have succeeded at doing, other than demoralizing the person you delegated to, is convince yourself that you were right all along; doing it yourself or micromanaging people is the only way to succeed.

There is however a third possibility. You establish accountability. It works like this: the person you delegated to comes to you with a question, problem, obstacle or concern. They ask for your “help” or come right out and say they don’t know how to  do the task.

Here is your moment to truly lead. If you are indeed certain that following the original plan will lead to the objectives being met then hold them fully accountable to follow the plan. Tell them THEIR plan is solid, tell them to stick to the plan. Assure them their answers are in the plan. Tell them you’ll see them on the follow up date and you know they will have succeeded. 

If you do anything other than establish accountability you risk looking like and in fact being, a micromanager.  

Don’t risk it! 

How to Stop Micromanaging

In my last post I wrote about the damage done by micromanaging. I could write for hours and hours on this scourge to all things productive. It limits the growth of every type of organization by limiting the growth of it’s people. It kills moral, it kills productivity, it kills profitability and eventually, it kills the organization.

But there is a way to stop micromanaging in it’s tracks. It’s called delegating!

Now as all micromanages will tell you, delegating doesn’t work. They say that if you want a job done right then you must do it yourself.

To all my micromanaging friends I say this: that’s a bunch of bunk!

If you delegated a task to someone and they failed at the task then it’s likely the failure was caused by YOUR poor delegating skills. As a leader you failed to delegate properly and further convinced yourself that you MUST micromanage to ensure the success of your people.

That’s dead wrong and it will lead the to creative death of your people and the financial death of your organization.

Let’s talk about what effective delegation looks like. Before we begin let me remind you that authentic leaders invest time with their people. Poor managers spend time on their people. Effective delegating will require an investment of your time. The good news is that if you do it right, it’s a one time investment for that task.

Effective delegation can be broken down into a seven step process, here are the steps:

1.  Select the Person – As a leader you must first decide who you will be delegating to. You have a couple of choices here. You can delegate to someone you know will get the job done, someone who is already proficient at the task. (This does not ensure success, they still need clearly defined objectives and outcomes to measure their progress and results) You also have the option to truly help someone grow by delegating a task to someone who will have to be pushed well outside their comfort zone in order to succeed.

2.  Plan the Delegation – Next you must plan all details of the delegation. What will be delegated, the deadline for completion, budget and resource requirements. You must also determine how results will be measured. The measurements must be fairly black and white. Opinions cause disagreements, the measurements can’t be based on opinion or emotions, you’ll need facts, figures and deadlines as your measuring tools or you risk a failed delegation.

3.  Meet with the person taking on the task – In the meeting, delegate by explaining what the task is and why it’s important to the organization. Explain the why and how of your decision to delegate to this particular person.

Next, explain the results to be achieved, be very specific here. If you leave “wriggle room” it likely that success will wriggle away.

Explain the rules and limitations of the delegation. Again, specificity is a key here. The person you’re delegating to must know exactly what they can and can’t do. They cannot come back to you for clarification during their task because that gives you an opening to micromanage. Set the guidelines up front, set them firm and make them consistent. Don’t give the person OR yourself any excuse to escape this delegation.

Next set the performance standards for the task. These are the measurements. No gray allowed here, the more black and white the better. When the time comes to evaluate the success of the task you do not want a debate. The outcome, whether or not it was met must be crystal clear to all involved.

4.  Ask for a Plan of Action – The person you’re delegating to should develop their own plan of action. How will they accomplish the task? Can they stay within the rules of the delegation, will it be completed on time?

5.  Review the Plan – The next step is another short meeting where you review their plan with them. This is where the rubber meets the road. If you mess this up the delegation will fail. YOU must be absolutely certain that their plan will result in the task being completed on time and successfully. If their plan will not accomplish the required outcome then you must coach the person to adjust their plan accordingly. Now, here’s YOUR challenge: keep your micromanaging monster in the cave; COACH them to change THEIR plan. DO NOT make this into your plan. They must have ownership.

Here’s another big challenge for you: their plan may be different than the plan you would have developed. Who cares! If their plan will meet the objectives, stay within the guidelines and accomplish the task, then let them go with it. If everything has to be done your way then it’s possible you may just be a hopeless micromanager.

6.  Implement the Plan – The majority of plans fail because they are never implemented. As important as the completion date is to the success of the plan the start date is vital as well. Make certain you have agreement as to when the person will begin. Set a date, even set a time on that date. Specificity is what makes delegation work!

7.  Follow-up – On the date agreed to, meet one final time to assess the results. If YOU didn’t mess anything up the results should be exactly what was required. You have just helped someone grow into a more productive member of the team. You demonstrated exceptional leader’s skills. You and the person you delegated to can now share a great success. Congratulations!

Congratulations maybe…. There are really three possible outcomes to this delegation process. How this delegation will play out is ultimately up to you, the leader.

In my next post we’ll discuss the possible outcomes and how you can impact each one.