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Micromanagement – The Opposite of Leadership

Submitted by • August 15, 2013

Micromanagers feel compelled to do it all instead of directing and guiding others-the management equivalent of a one-man band-thus making them the direct opposite of leaders and savvy managers. Micromanagement may indeed be a compulsion based upon deep seated insecurities resistant to change. But any insight gained by micromanagers that leads to self-awareness and change, no matter how slight, will be welcomed by a large portion of the workforce who are micromanaged.

A micromanager is one who feels compelled to tell you how to do your job. This is not the whole story, though. Even though they want to tell you how to do your job, most micromanagers really do not know how to do your job. But once they see your work, they can tell you how not to do your job. They prefer doing your job instead of stating clearly their expectations and allowing you a degree of flexibility around these expectations. In fact, a core characteristic of the micromanager is to set unrealistic and rigid expectations, often completely idiosyncratic and not tied to objective standards of quality. I have seen micromanaged employees whose output, although perfectly acceptable by most standards, failed to meet unstated expectations and was completely re-written by a micromanager in a style much more dense than the original.

Micromanagement is so toxic because it breeds distrust and saps motivation. It will quite literally bring an organization to a standstill because the micromanager will be so busy approving , editing, revising, and doing their employees’ work that operations in the organization will be reduced to a trickle. Additional consequences of micro-management are:

  • turnover goes up because few people can tolerate consistent micromanagement;
  • employees do sloppy work because they feel no matter what they do, they will be corrected;
  • quality goes down because most micromanages have deluded themselves into believing that only they can do a job right-when in truth many micromanagers border on the incompetent.

Savvy managers know that engagement with employees is a necessary part of good supervision. But engagement is not micromanagement. Engagement means knowing your employees’ responsibilities and tasks even to the point that you can teach them the basics of their jobs. In fact, savvy managers could do their employees work-but they don’t. Savvy managers are secure enough to trust their employees to do their jobs even though tasks are not done exactly as they would do them.

If you want to be a savvy manager and what you have read so far gives you the uneasy feeling that you may have micromanagement tendencies, take this test. If two or three describe you, then you have work to do. Awareness is the first step in change.

  1. Do you tell employees how to do tasks instead of what you want done?
  2. Do you believe that to do a task right, you have to do it yourself?
  3. When employees don’t produce what you want, would you rather do it yourself than instruct them in what you want?
  4. Do you expect others to “know” you well enough to anticipate what needs to be done without your having to tell them?
  5. Do you find that you spend more and more of your time reviewing the work of your employees?
  6. Are projects in your organization, no matter how insignificant, always delayed because others are waiting for you to sign off on them?
  7. Do you have a hard time keeping employees?
  8. Do your employees think you are a micro-manager?

Many micromanagers are too insecure to face their shortcomings. The most likely cure is dismissal after the organization spirals so far down that it is in jeopardy of surviving. But for the few micromanagers who have some insight into their behavior and who want to become savvy managers what can be done?

Change will be hard, but here are some things to practice:

  • In every job, have a clear image of what you want produced; tell that to your employees, then refrain from telling them how to do it. If they do not produce what you want , assume it was your fault in not stating clearly want you want; restate your expectations and ask them to try again; do not take the work from them and do it yourself.
  • If you continue to find fault with their work, look at your expectations. How reasonable are they? Ask peers to give you feedback on your employees’ work. Peer input may help you reset your expectations to a more reasonable level.
  • If the work still doesn’t look right-and if no substantial harm will result, let it go out, but make sure the employee gets feedback on the work from the client. Let your employees fail. Give them permission to learn and improve from their failure but under no circumstance punish employees for failing. That is a sure sign of an abusive and incompetent manager. And the employee will lose trust in you for having “set them up” to fail.
  • Delegate sign-off authority for all but the most significant organizational output to others. Start at the tier immediately below yourself and as subordinates get more confidence and more understanding of your vision, ask them to delegate further down the chain.

Micromanagement kills organizations. Savvy managers foster an open and trusting environment that allows employees to succeed and to thrive. The golden rule of savvy management-when employees succeed, managers succeed-is a basic leadership principle. Changing from micromanagement to savvy management means adopting this rule in word and in practice. The organization will be more effective, employees will be more productive, and you will be more successful as a manager.

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