The Problem With Micromanaging

Have you ever heard the term microleading? I doubt it but if you have you should recognize it as an oxymoron. Like “I worked all-day one night.” 

 

Micromanaging is exactly what it says it is, microMANAGING. It’s when someone in a leadership position not only tries to manage a person but they manage even the smallest details of that person’s job. 

 

But micromanaging isn’t really the problem, it’s merely a symptom of a much bigger issue. The bigger issue is that there is someone in a leadership position trying to manage another human being. 

 

You see, managing is about stuff. You can manage budgets, you can manage inventory, you can manage buildings and plans but you cannot manage people. Basic human instinct drives us to resist being managed and and also makes us virtually crave being led.

 

Leadership is about people, people and only people. 

 

If you’ve found your way into a leadership position, no matter how you got there, your number one responsibility is to and for the people you lead. 

 

The real problem with micromanaging is not the “micro” part, it’s the managing part. In a weird twist, the “micro” part actually magnifies the fact that the person is being managed and not led. 

 

Managing a person is like asking them to swim laps while wearing handcuffs. They may some how pull it off but you’ll be greatly limiting their effectiveness. Notice I said “you’ll” as in you, the leader, will be limiting their effectiveness. 

 

Most every issue a person in a leadership position has with their people likely stems from the fact that they are trying to manage them. A managed person’s morale, creativeness, willingness to take risks, and motivation to push themselves are all pressured by being managed; when they are micromanaged those same things are crushed. 

 

I might be naive but I don’t think most micromanagers mean to do that type of harm. But there isn’t much difference between intentional harm and unintentional harm. If you’re micromanaging your people your harming them by limiting their growth. 

 

Authentic Servant Leaders know that they don’t really grow their business, they grow their people and their people then grow the business. When you limit the growth of your people you’re also limiting the growth of your entire organization. 

 

Trust your people! Unleash their potential by leading them, not managing them. Motivate them, coach them, teach them, and care for them. 


Authentic Servant Leaders understand that their people aren’t assets, they are not capital, and that they are not machines. They know that their people are human beings, real live human beings who have goals and dreams, they know that they are people who need to be led, not managed. 

When Your Boss is a Micro-Manager

There are many challenges associated with working for a micro-manager. When you work for a micro-manager it makes it much more difficult for you to learn the skills needed to succeed. It makes it far more of a struggle to develop your instincts and judgment, two traits that will be required for you to make sound decisions as a future leader. Working for a micro-manager can make you hesitant and kill your self-confidence.

There are two main reasons people micro-manage. One is that they don’t trust their people. Their lack of trust stems from a lack of self-confidence, they don’t trust that they have put the right people in the right places. If they can’t trust themselves they most certainly can’t trust anyone else.

The other reason people micro-manage is a true, pure love for the business or organization. They want and need to be involved, they enjoy being involved. They are passionate about all aspects of the operation and they just want… no they need, everything to be right. If anything, perhaps they “over-care.” They mean no harm and they just don’t understand that they are in a way stealing your “ego food.”

Either way there are truly a ton of issues when it comes to working for a micro-manager. It just isn’t the best situation to be in.

But so what?

None of those issues, not a one of them, should be used as an excuse to not try. Doing nothing and then blaming a micro-manager for YOUR lack of productivity is on you, not the micro-manager. There is not a micro-manager in the world who can prevent you from taking action. They cannot prevent you from making decisions. They can’t stop you from thinking and being creative. They can’t steal your self-confidence …. unless you allow it. 

They can overrule anything and everything you do but you can keep trying. You can stay positive, you can press on. The best, most productive method for working with a micro-manager is to lead up. Lead up by making good decisions, being proactive, leading yourself well and making a choice to maintain control over your attitude and confidence level. 

Making good decisions, being proactive, and displaying a bit of confidence will all contribute to earning the trust of even the most micro of micro-managers. Unless your boss is a complete wacko you’ll earn not only the trust of your boss but a little more room to grow as well.

If your boss is the second type of micro-manager then share in their passion, engage and connect. Show your own passion for the organization, help them build the business and fill the leadership gaps created by the growth. Don’t expect a micro-manager to give you room to grow but don’t be surprised when they let you make your own room.

There are plenty of opportunities to thrive under a micro-manager so long as you don’t use being micro-managed as an excuse to sit on your hands and pout. Micro-managers don’t manage your attitude, you are always responsible for that.

If you’re blaming a micro-manager for your lack of growth then you had best take a look in the mirror because it’s likely your bigger problem is the one staring back at you. You may not like hearing that but you need to come to grips with it if you hope to succeed in the future.

By the way, if you do have the misfortune of working for a person who simply will never give you the opportunity to grow then you must stop complaining and lead yourself to better employment. That too is a choice only you can make!

 

Today’s Biggest Leadership Challenge – Part Two

Now that you have your mentoring program underway let’s look at the other significant leadership challenge of today. 😀 I joke about already having your mentoring program started but I don’t joke about this: do not delay in getting started with developing tomorrow’s leaders; this workforce issue is going to overwhelm organizations that aren’t prepared to deal with it. Don’t be one of the many who are surprised that this issue overtook them so fast.

The second major challenge facing today’s leaders is micro-managing. Those of you who believe you are micro-managed should not get too excited here. This is not just going to be a recommendation for today’s leaders to stop micro-managing their people. This is about tomorrow’s leaders not allowing themselves to be micro-managed. 

I’ve worked for micro-managers at different points in my career but I’ve never really felt micro-managed. I always listened to my micro-manager (they deserve that respect) and then I always tried to do the right thing. When the right thing worked and it was different from what I was told to do I either heard nothing or I heard I was lucky or if I was working for a leader (yes, even good leaders can fall into the trap of micro-managing) I might have heard “good job.”  When what I thought was the right thing to do didn’t work I heard how I had screwed up. I got yelled at, I felt bad. I might have even embarrassed myself, but I survived. And I learned, I grew, and I discovered why my boss might have felt the need to micro-manage me. 

Here’s my point, the real problem with micro-managing is not only with today’s leaders who micro-manage, it is with tomorrow’s leaders who use it as an excuse to NOT make decisions and an excuse to not begin leading today. They say they “are not allowed” to make decisions and once they convince themselves of that it is certain that they won’t be making meaningful  decisions anytime soon.

The reality is that even in the most micro-managed organizations 85% of all decisions are made below the top levels of an organization. If you’re a true future leader you have ample opportunity to practice your decision making skills no matter where you work. You only have to risk getting yelled at. Okay, so maybe you have to risk losing your job but if you can’t truly thrive in the role you’re in then maybe you don’t want that job anyway. 

If you have the courage required to lead then you also have the courage to make decisions, whether you work for a micro-manager or not. You may not have the authority to move on major decisions but you can still learn effective decision making by making every lower level decision possible.

If you work for a leader who micro-manages they might be limiting their own leadership potential but they can only limit yours if you let them. Don’t let them!

A couple of final thoughts for the leader of today who is sincerely interested in developing the leaders of tomorrow.

If you’re a micro-manager then stop. If you can’t completely stop (and if it was my behind on the line I might find it hard to stop too) then stop a little. If you’ve never had a serious disagreement in your team meetings then you should recognize that as a warning sign that your future leaders are just sitting back and silently letting you decide everything. You cannot develop future leaders that way. 

Encourage debate, encourage the airing of different viewpoints, be quiet, force the opinions out of your people. If you have the right people in the room they most certainly have opinions and many of those opinions will be different than yours; it’s the job of the leader to make them feel safe enough to share them.

This much is certain, you will not find your organization’s next generation of leaders by watching them listen to you. 

 

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.

How Micromanaging Kills a Business

Let’s get this part out of the way early. If you’re a leader who micromanages your people then you’re a leader with very serious limitations. You’re also a leader who likely won’t think much of this post.

Leaders who insist on micro-managing, have a problem; they believe they must check on every detail and they are most likely an insecure leader. Their leadership is based on a lack of faith and trust in other people. It is repressive. 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, and it discourages teamwork. If they micro-manage often enough or long enough and they will kill their business. 

They 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, they risk disempowering their people. They ruin their confidence, hurt their performance, and frustrate them to the point where they may quit.

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

They don’t trust their employees or their judgment, and they are unwilling to allow them to assume any responsibility. They are cheating themselves of the ability 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 as the talent to create and move forward has been banished by the micro-manager.

The inability of micro-managers to “let go” and let other people make some decisions and perhaps even risk failure, ensures that the growth of the organization and it’s people will be severely restricted. 

People who are micro-managed stop being productive. Given even the most basic of assignments, they “learn” to wait for direction. If they are micro-managed long enough they completely disengage from the organization and simply “go through the motions” until they finally leave or are fired. 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 but it’s also a great tool to help micro-managers break free from the limitations that come from attempting to do it all themselves. 

My next post will discuss a seven-step delegation process that virtually ensures an effective outcome. If you want to build your people you won’t want to miss it!