Updated: Feb 8, 2021
Hello, Dear Readers. Let’s start with another story this week.
No, actually, let’s start with a quote. Dr. Wanda Wallace, corporate CEO and author said, “your role as a leader is to bring out the best in others, even when they know more than you”, and wow, I love that. It sets the stage nicely for today’s post.
I have a friend who used to work for a boss who was quite challenging. What my friend found particularly difficult about working for this person was their need to fully understand every detail of her employees’ jobs and the work they completed. This person was not an inexperienced manager by any means. This had been her modus operandi for years and she prided herself on knowing her department’s numbers better than any other leader in the company. Every day this manager knew precisely how many clients were served, how many were called but not reached, how many minutes were spent on breaks, and most importantly, how much time was unaccounted for. In addition to time spent on each task, she also kept very detailed records of how each employee compared to the others. Whether each one had similar job responsibilities or not was unimportant. The important thing was that they all had similar base pays. If they were paying someone to see 14 clients each day, but paying someone else to see only 10, she was going to need a detailed explanation from the 10 client per day employee.
The detailed management did not end there, of course. Despite the professional standard being self-managed arrival times, this boss also required each employee to check in at her office every morning and essentially clock themselves in for the day. In the manager’s mind, if they were all coming in on time every day, they should have no problem signing the daily attendance sheet in front of their boss. If verifying this every day meant people thought she didn’t trust them, then those people must be untrustworthy after all.
Being that she was the leader of the department, she also believed it was her job to not only review every client interaction report, something each employee was required to complete after every client encounter, but to provide frequent corrective feedback. Each day she would review all the reports and provide detailed, industry-specific corrections to areas she felt were wrong. Every Friday the manager sent emails to all her employees, detailing what mistakes they had made that week and providing suggestions on how to fix them. Based on what she saw as questionable judgment in many of the reports, the last thing this manager was going to do was trust her team with these reports. While she had been out of the day-to-day work her team did for close to a decade, the manager was confident that she was still on the top of her game. If she could get it right after all these years, she was going to make damn sure her team did too. Taking responsibility for her team’s outcomes was something she took seriously, and she believe keeping close tabs on everyone’s work was the right thing to do.
Let’s pump the brakes here for a sec, OK? Just typing out the details of this story is making me feel anxious. This is not a good management or leadership style. I want to make that very clear before going any further lest any of you get the wrong idea. The manager was doing a momentous disservice to herself, her team and her organization as a whole. Micromanagement as a supervisory tool is team kryptonite, and, in my opinion, a lazy one at that.
But Natalie, you might say, it takes a lot more time and effort to run a department this way. How is that lazy?
According to Harvard Business Review, micromanaging supervisors tend to be either:
1. People who, out of fear of being exposed as incompetent or ineffectual, go overboard on data collection and report analysis in the hopes they will know the answer to any possible question asked.
2. People who were promoted up the ranks and feel much more comfortable analyzing the work of those now doing the work they used to do, than they do learning how to level-up their game and master their new leadership role.
This shit is L-A-Z-Y. As a leader, it is your job to inspire your team to perform at the highest level possible. It is your job to make sure you have the right people on your team and that those right people are in positions that best suit their strengths and skill sets. Your job is to set your employees up to succeed. Most times, building the most successful team and allowing your employees to succeed means trusting them to flourish and work at the top of their professional scopes.
If you find yourself unable to trust that your team is using their professional judgment to make the best decisions possible, I highly recommend you keep reading. Let’s stop blaming and start exploring this issue.
Are you someone who was raised to think all mistakes must be immediately addressed in order to prevent any future failures?
Or are you a hard worker who hustled their way to the top, only to find out you really, kinda, sorta don’t like this job so much and want to hang back in the trenches with your old crew?
Or perhaps the team really is not performing at the level you would expect, and you only want to help them correct course?
Or maybe the practice of micromanaging is simply the culture of your organization?
While the above situations can be tough, they will all be made more challenging with the presence of an overbearing micromanager. I promise you that. 100% guarantee it. Thankfully, there are plenty of steps you, as a leader and manager, can take to get you and your team pointed in the right direction. Let’s talk about two of my favorites.
1. Over, and I cannot emphasize this enough, communicate with your employees.
Overcommunicate when it comes to expectations. Well, Natalie, you might once again ask, doesn’t this seem like micromanagement in and of itself? My answer is, no, no it does not. When you communicate regularly and clearly with your team, they know exactly what is expected of them. And when people know what is expected of them, they feel supported to work towards those goals. When people are well supported in the workplace, they feel empowered. As a leader, empowering your team should always be one of your highest priorities. When you spend time micromanaging every detail, your employees are more likely to feel smothered (as well as annoyed, BTW) than supported. To nail the supportive and not smothering behavior, I recommend having set times each week (or day, or month, depending on your specific situation) to review what is expected, what has been accomplished, as well as discuss any possible questions your employee may have. This is the perfect time to also get to know your people better. Go for a walk, get a cup of coffee, ask them to pan their cameras over so you can wave to their kid/dog/ferret/prize-winning orchid collection, whatever you have to do make this time meaningful for both you and them. Does this take more time than simply directing from the wings? Of course. But developing your team is your job, and your job is important.
2. Ask more questions and give less unsolicited feedback.
This one is important. When you make yourself pause and focus on asking questions, you stop the instinctive nature to try to problem-solve for everyone else on your team. Micromanaging is fundamentally an effort to control outcomes and solve problems. While these are important, being consumed by controlling and solving by yourself will overwhelm you and alienate your team. Remember them? The ones you should support and empower? Instead of jumping right in on why something won’t work, ask your employee to tell you more about their process. Get them to explain it to you in their words, and you might see something you wouldn’t have otherwise. If you still see a problem, delegate the correction of it to them instead of taking it on yourself. By delegating the task to them, you are sending the message that you value your employee’s input and trust their talent, regardless of the state of the current project. As the leader, it is your responsibility to build your team up, especially when things aren’t going as planned.
I know you already have a lot on your plate. Asking questions instead of directing and communicating early, often and clearly takes time. But once again, this is your job, and your job is important. To me, few things are more sacred than gaining the trust of others. As a leader, you have been entrusted with the task of empowering your team, and it is a responsibility you should not take lightly. I sincerely hope the two suggested managerial and leadership tools described above help the multitude of micromanagers among us. Please let me know what you think about this post in particular, and the topic of micromanaging in general. I always love hearing from my readers and truly value the insights you all provide. Consider making an account and leaving a comment here directly or hit me up on social media.
Have a great week, my friends.