Helping Team Members Excel – on Their Own
You've assigned an important task to a talented employee, and given them a deadline. Now, do you let them do their work and simply touch base with them at predefined points along the way – or do you keep dropping by their desk and sending emails to check their progress?
If it's the latter, you might be a micromanager. Or, if you're the harried worker trying to make a deadline with a boss hovering at your shoulder, you might have a micromanager on your hands – someone who just can't let go of tiny details.
Micromanagers take perfectly positive attributes – an attention to detail and a hands-on attitude – to the extreme. Either because they're control-obsessed, or because they feel driven to push everyone around them to succeed, micromanagers risk disempowering their colleagues. They ruin their colleagues' confidence, hurt their performance, and frustrate them to the point where they quit.
Luckily, however, there are ways to identify these overzealous tendencies in yourself and get rid of them before they do more damage. And if you work for a micromanager, there are strategies that you can use to convince him or her to accept your independence.
But how do you spot the signs of micromanagement? Where's the line between being an involved manager and an over-involved manager who's driving the rest of the team mad? This article and video will answer these questions and provide you with strategies that you can use to avoid micromanagement.
Signs of Micromanagement
Here are some signs that you might be a micromanager – or work for one. In general, micromanagers:
- Resist delegating.
- Immerse themselves in overseeing the projects of others.
- Start by correcting tiny details instead of looking at the big picture.
- Take back delegated work before it's finished if they find a mistake in it.
- Discourage others from making decisions without consulting them.
What's Wrong With Micromanaging?
If you're getting results by micromanaging and keeping your nose in everyone's business, why not carry on?
Micromanagers often affirm the value of their approach with a simple experiment: They give an employee an assignment, and then disappear until the deadline. Is this employee likely to excel when given free rein?
Possibly – if the worker has exceptional confidence in their abilities. Under micromanagement, however, most workers become timid and tentative – possibly even paralyzed. "No matter what I do," such a worker might think, "it won't be good enough." Then one of two things will happen: either the worker will ask the manager for guidance before the deadline, or they'll forge ahead, but come up with an inadequate result.
In either case, the micromanager will interpret the result of this experiment as proof that, without constant intervention, their people will struggle or fail.
But do these results verify the value of micromanagement – or condemn it? A truly effective manager sets up others to succeed. Micromanagers, on the other hand, prevent employees from making – and taking responsibility for – their own decisions. But it's precisely the process of making decisions, and living with the consequences, that causes people to grow and improve.
Click here to view a transcript of this video.
So now you've identified micro-managerial tendencies and seen why they're bad news. What can you do if you know you're exhibiting such behaviors – or are being subjected to them by a supervisor?
From the micromanager's perspective, the best way to build healthier relationships with employees may be the most direct: talk to them.
It might take several conversations to convince them that you're serious about change. Getting frank feedback from employees is the hard part.
Once you've done that, as executive coach Marshall Goldsmith recommends in his book What Got You Here Won't Get You There, it's time to apologize and change. This means giving your employees the leeway – and encouragement – to succeed.
Focus first on the ones with the most potential, and learn to delegate effectively to them. Read our article on delegation for more about this.
And if you're the person being micromanaged, things may be a bit more complicated. Likely as not, you're being held back in your professional development – and probably not making the progress in your career that you could be if you enjoyed workplace independence.
But there's a certain amount that you can do to improve the situation:
- Help your boss to delegate to you more effectively by prompting them to give you all the information you will need up front, and to set interim review points along the way.
- Volunteer to take on work or projects that you're confident you'll be good at. This will start to increase your manager's confidence in you – and maybe also their delegation skills.
- Make sure that you communicate progress to your boss regularly, to discourage them from seeking information just because they haven't had any for a while.
- Concentrate on helping your boss to change one micromanagement habit at a time. Remember that managers are only human too!
- Read our article on Working With Powerful People for further advice on how to manage upward.
Micromanagement restricts the ability of micromanaged people to develop and grow, and it also limits what the micromanager's team can achieve, because everything has to go through them.
When a boss is reluctant to delegate, focuses on details ahead of the big picture, and discourages people from taking the initiative, there's every chance that they're sliding toward micromanagement.
The first steps to avoiding the micromanagement trap (or getting out of it once you're there) are to recognize the danger signs, and then to talk about them.
If you're micromanaged, help your boss to see that there's a better way of working. And if you're the micromanager, work hard on those delegation skills and learn to trust your staff to develop and deliver.
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