Are You Helping or Micromanaging?

BY Tim Londergan
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Sometimes, leadership means relinquishing control. Even when we can do a task faster or better or more efficiently, managing effectively means we must let others have a turn. When the pressure is on to meet a deadline or when a team member is struggling, we jump in to speed things along. However, the problem is that micromanaging cheats others of their development or shows that we don’t trust in their abilities.

Micromanaging has many faces

Often, managers are promoted because they know how to do particular tasks well. Therefore, it’s first nature to intercede when trying to help or to demonstrate your skill. Focusing on the completed task takes precedence over delegating and developing skilled co-​workers. For instance, a project with high visibility may capture your attention and you exercise control when you should probably stand in the shadows. On the other hand, there may be times when you miss interacting with vendors or clients and simply want a change of pace. All of these are well-​intentioned actions and can be rationalized, but they are also examples of micromanaging.

Micromanagement is a perception

Kevin Eikenberry is an author and leadership expert who understands the nuances of micromanaging and helps executives avoid the experience. Significantly, Eikenberry notes that micromanagement is in the eye of the beholder — “A leader can lead/​manage two people in exactly the same way, and while one loves the approach, the other feels micromanaged." Therefore, managers must understand why these perceptions exist and how to avoid the tendency to intercede when others need to be in control.

Steps to avoid being a micromanager

In the article, How to Stop Micromanaging, Eikenberry acknowledges that micromanaging is not a favorable characteristic. Likewise, he emphasizes that is happens too often in business environments. Importantly, awareness is part of the solution, and he provides a list of six ideas to help overcome the tendency to micromanage. Here are several for your consideration:

  • Mutually understood expectations – You can avoid the urge to check in when you have clearly communicated the importance of the task and the desired outcome. Be sure that team members are clear on all relevant issues, timing and ultimate goals.
  • Be ready to compromise on the approach – Focus on the outcome, not the method used to achieve it. Accept that others may choose to approach the task differently and let it go.
  • Confirm your willingness to provide support – Establish how and when the team will give you updates with the knowledge that you will be ‘hands off” unless they specifically ask for help.

Whose problem is this, really?

People need to be given a chance to succeed. Importantly, this is how children mature and how team members learn and develop. We know of helicopter parents and how stifling it must be to be denied freedom of expression. However, the real problem lies with the parent or manager who is inflexible or who cannot let go of their own control issues. Micromanaging often grows from a mindset of control. Don’t be that boss.

The importance of training

Well-​trained individuals who agree on the definition of success will function as a team that does not need your intervention. True, you are ultimately responsible for the outcome. However, if you’ve properly laid the groundwork and trust in the ability of the team to deliver, you can relax and focus on your own essential work.

Ask for feedback

If you are the type of manager who occasionally oversteps, take a moment to self-​assess. Eikenberry suggests that you make your intentions of limiting control clear, and open the lines of communication. Use team member feedback to help you calibrate your level of involvement and to avoid micromanaging in the future.

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash