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The Insiders Guide to Micromanagement

The Insiders Guide to Micromanagement post image

I’ve yet to meet a manager who admits to being a micro-manager, but according to micro-management expert Harry Chambers and other corroborating research, the majority of workers indicate that micro-management has interfered with job performance.

I imagine the disconnect is that it’s rarely an either/or situation. Micro-managing is a dysfunctional behavior that most leaders fall into from time to time. So how do you know if you’re slipping into the micro-management trap?

Symptoms of a Micro-manager

It’s easy to spot micro-management when we’re the ones being micro-managed, if we’re the culprit. The best list of symptoms of micro-management I’ve found is this article in the Public Personnel Management Journal.

Here Are A Few:
  • Overseeing workers too closely and telling people what to do and how to do it. Constantly monitoring even your best employees.
  • Going alone to the bosses office so sub-or­dinates don’t get credit. Becoming irritated when they aren’t consulted in decisions. Exploding when their boss by-passes them and goes directly to the team.
  • Obsessing about details. Confusing accuracy with precision (e.g. keeping track of the number of copies made on the Xerox machine).
  • Frequently calling the office while on vacation.
  • Creating deadlines for deadlines sake. Demanding overly frequent and unnecessary written status reports.
  • Creating bottlenecks because they are too busing trying to do all the jobs of the organization.

Why Do Managers Micro-manage?

The biggest cause of micro-management is insecurity, followed closely by a #2 of working for a micro-manager. Lacking the ability to set clear expectation or just feeling uncomfortable in a leadership role also enter into the mix.

What’s the Best Way to Kick the Micro-managing Habit?

  1. Consider Your Motives– What is causing you to micro-manage? Get a mentor or coach to help you get underneath the root cause. Ask for feedback from your team.
  2. Get the right team- If you just can’t trust this team, but you have trusted teams in the past, it may be time to take a look at your players.
  3. Set clear expectations – Establishing clear direction up front is the first step to empowerment. Tell your team where you need them to go, but not how to get there.
  4. Develop a robust communication system – Consider what information you really need at what frequency. Develop a cadence that make updates easy.
  5. Give Clear Feedback– The worst kind of micro-management is recycling feedback. If something isn’t right, be very clear about what you need to avoid endless rework and wasted time.

Note: Micro-management surfaced as an important theme in response to my post: The Biggest Mistakes Team Leaders Make. If you missed that post, take a quick look so you can join the fun. We’re working on a crowd-sourced e-book that will be free to all LGL subscribers. I’m taking your thoughts on the biggest mistakes and teeing them up in posts for additional discussion and story collection. Then I’ll gather your insights and weave them in to our book. Hope you will join the fun. P.S. We’ll sprinkle our e-book making posts in amongst our general LGL fare.

Help Write The Story

Ways to share you input for the e-book. Please add notes to the comment section.

  1. Stories of micro-managers– Come on this will be the most fun to read (change the names to protect these folks – bless their hearts).
  2. Strengthen my lists
    • What are the symptoms of micro-management?
    • Why do managers micro-manage?
    • What’s the best way to break your own micro-managing habit?
  3. Start your own list: What’s the best way to deal with a micro-managing manager?
Please help spread the word on participating in our crowd-sourced e-book. The more minds the better. Not a subscriber? Enter your email address to join the fun.
Filed Under:   Energy & Engagement
 
 
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.
 

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What People Are Saying

Jon Mertz   |   23 May 2014   |   Reply

The best way to kick the micromanagement habit is to just get out of the way of talented people! Set expectations — goals and accountability and trust people to do the work. Check in, support as needed, and recognize when milestones met.

Most micromanagers lack self-awareness, which is one of the key reasons they micro manage!

Thanks for highlighting these points, Karin!

Jon

Karin Hurt   |   23 May 2014   |   Reply

Jon, Excellent! The lack of self-awareness is such an important aspect of all of this.

Tarek Taha   |   23 May 2014   |   Reply

I once worked for a micromanager who would hold meetings to obsess about whether certain metrics should be reported to the 4th or 5th decimal point….as if that would cause a different business decision to be made! I think he was so caught up in the “wonder” of the math exercise that he neglected to see the purpose of why we were doing the analysis in the first place. I agree with several of the comments here. Hire a great team, hold them accountable and remove any obstacles to their success. Everything your team does reflects on you as a leader. Consider it a compliment if your boss goes to them directly instead of running everything through you first. Great post, Karin!

Centrino   |   23 May 2014   |   Reply

Not only leaders micromanage; ‘normal’ managers fall in this trap too.
For me the #1 reason they micromanage is because they lack self-confidence (inner problem) AND they don’t trust their team (outer problem)

Terri Klass   |   23 May 2014   |   Reply

The best way to avoid micromanaging is to build up confidence in both yourself and your team and be very clear about what responsibilities each has. The foundation for any teamwork is trust and essential for leaders to model.

I also think that micromanaging can happen with two people collaborating when one thinks the other isn’t as strong. In that case, dump the collaboration and find someone new to grow with.

Thanks Karin!

Karin Hurt   |   23 May 2014   |   Reply

Terri, you raise such an important point.. if you keep feeling like you’re carrying all the load, find another partner.

Bill Benoist   |   23 May 2014   |   Reply

Hi Karin,

One thing about being managed by a micromanager boss is you must do something. You must be proactive because the boss’s behavior is not going to change without you first taking action. Venting to your colleagues, significant other or even a coach is not going to facilitate change.

I believe the most important step is to identify the micromanager’s motivators. Put yourself in their shoes and try to see the workplace from their perspective. Understanding what drives them will allow you to anticipate their needs, eventually lessening their need to feel so much in control.

It’s also not something that will happen overnight, but takes some work.

Karin Hurt   |   23 May 2014   |   Reply

Bill this is great. A terrific quote to use in the book. Love it.

LaRae Quy   |   23 May 2014   |   Reply

Of all the bosses I remember, it’s the micro-managers! And not in a good way :-(

Great post showing people how micro-managing can creep up on all of us…if we don’t have the self-awareness to recognize it in ourselves.

Karin Hurt   |   23 May 2014   |   Reply

LaRae, Alas…they stick out for me too.

Woody Till   |   23 May 2014   |   Reply

Karen, Good article. I have a sign on the wall in my office to remind me everyday not to micromanage. It reads “Leadership – The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he or she wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

Karin Hurt   |   23 May 2014   |   Reply

Woody, love that quote. I think we can use that in the opening. All, love all these suggestions.

Alli Polin   |   24 May 2014   |   Reply

I recently reconnected with an old colleague I worked with 15 years ago and we talked about one of our shared managers who, especially at the time, we considered a micromanager. Everything we sent to her for review came back with familiar red marks literally everywhere. My old colleague had a great perspective on it: We felt dejected because we thought the quality of our work was high and our manager picked it apart. However, we now see that she was giving us things to think about and consider in new ways. She had so many ideas that her red pen just kept going and going. In the end, the product we developed is one that she continued to pull out for literally years and years to come because our micromanager was raising our bar the best way she knew how.

Like most people, I really hate to be micromanaged but it’s important to consider the micromanager’s intention and to realize that they’re not necessarily out to get you, hate your work or don’t trust you. They need to learn a new way of leading and being that empowers and all you or I can do is continue to raise our bar, do great work and remind ourselves that we’re on the same team.

Great insights from the other commenters here too!

Martin Webster   |   24 May 2014   |   Reply

Some time ago I worked for a micromanager. He was astute enough to recognise that the team wasn’t performing as well as it should, so he brought in a developmental coach. One of the first things we addressed as a team was trust … Alas, the micromanager didn’t have the self awareness to appreciate that his lack of trust was the root cause of the team’s problems.

Unfortunately, most micromanagers I observe have a low EQ and never think it themselves who need to change.

So, here’s my “tribute” to this micromanager: What My Boss Taught Me About Micromanagers.

David Dye   |   25 May 2014   |   Reply

Great discussion, Karin!

In my experience, it’s difficult for true micro-managers to overcome the tendency because the root cause (fear) is so pronounced.

Leader’s who operate from a core of fear and insecurity grip tighter and tighter when they’re scared. If you have one, it takes a huge amount of trust-building to get them to let go and that trust is fragile.

If you are the micro-manager, think of leading people like holding water in your hand. You need a firm hand, yes…it’s cupped and steady to create a basin that supports the water. But if you get scared and squeeze, the water flies out in every direction and you’re left with nothing.

Alli also points out an important truth: high standards can look like micromanagement, but they’re not necessarily. It could be training to help you achieve at a higher level.

Great post; great discussion!