Most leaders want to help the people on their team, but some get tripped up by assuming that more management is always better. Micromanaging a competent employee can make them feel dissatisfied and disheartened. And because harmful micromanagers tend to undervalue employees’ abilities and insights, they can make workplaces feel less inclusive.
Here is how to recognize micromanaging tendencies and determine how helpful—or harmful—they are:
CHARACTERISTICS OF HARMFUL MICROMANAGERS
A micromanager may require unnecessary or overly detailed procedures for routine and straightforward tasks. They don’t just tell you which tasks to perform; they tell you in excruciating detail exactly how you must do it, show you how you must do it, and then often redo it themselves even if you have followed their extensive and rigid guidelines.
“The micromanager is down in the weeds, swamped in minutiae,” says Teresa A. Daniel, dean of the Human Resource Leadership programs at Sullivan University.
A micromanager may insert themselves into every project and require numerous check-ins. Often, micromanagers can’t keep up with all of the work they hoard for themselves. As a result, it is not uncommon for micromanagers’ projects to become bottlenecked, and for progress to grind to a halt.
“Micromanagers demand to oversee every piece of work their employees complete. These bosses often make employees wait for approval before starting the next stage of the work, which can cause significant delays and frustrations,” reads Teambuilding.com. “This sends the message that the leader does not trust the employee to do tasks correctly. Having to run every idea or finished product by a manager indefinitely is neither an enjoyable nor sustainable work model.”
HOW TO ADJUST
It would be marvelous if there were a formula for how much direction and oversight to give each person on your team, but it is not that easy. If you do have micromanaging tendencies, it’s important to consider the following factors for each person and adjust accordingly:
Is the employee new to the industry, or do they bring years of industry experience backed by a proven track record?
Is the employee new to your organization, or did they transfer positions, bringing organizational knowledge to their new role?
Is the employee meeting or exceeding expectations?
Does the employee seem confident in their role?
Has the employee asked for additional responsibilities and a greater range of tasks?
Has the employee indicated a need for more autonomy?
Are you focusing on minute details, or trusting the employee to handle those?
HOW TO KNOW IF YOU ARE A HARMFUL MICROMANAGER
In order to determine if your micromanaging tendencies are out of control, I highly recommend that you put aside time for honest introspection. Ask yourself:
Do I create an ever-increasing number of processes and procedures, generate reams of documentation, and require employees to do the same?
Do I often ignore the guidance of committees and my team because my insight is always better?
Do I talk over or cut off others’ comments because I don’t want their insights?
Do I impose strict, authoritarian oversight of tasks, including those that are minor and mundane?
Do I insist on reviewing finished projects multiple times before signing off, frequently resulting in missed deadlines?
Do I hijack the supervision of people others are supposed to manage, undermining my teammates’ authority and causing project delays and roadblocks due to the unnecessary extra layer of bureaucracy?
If you regularly engage in these actions, it is very likely that you create and compound problems more than you solve them. This harmful micromanagement style reduces trust, motivation, engagement, creativity, and employee retention.
Ask yourself, “Did I add value to the business with the time I spent supervising today, or could I dedicate some of that time to more strategic activities?”
Set a perfection scale of 1 to 10. Ask yourself whether you are pushing for a 10 when an 8 or 9 is adequate and a better use of time for a minor task.
Make this your daily mantra: “My way is not the only way.”
Apply the 80/20 rule. In 80% of tasks, allow your employees to approach activities their way. For the remaining 20% of tasks (the most critical tasks), guide employees to do things your way.
HOW HARNESS MICROMANAGING TENDENCIES FOR GOOD
In an article for the BBC, leadership expert Sydney Finkelstein poses, “The good news is that the best micromanagers are often the best talent developers. Their attention to detail, their intimate knowledge of the business, and their deep involvement in what’s going on enable more, not less, delegation. Their position in the center of the work creates an opportunity for micromanagers to challenge subordinates with big assignments precisely because they are informed.”
The key, according to Finkelstein? To be successful, micromanagers must be selective about where they devote their laser-focused attention. They cannot apply it to all things everywhere as this isn’t helpful, sustainable, or effective.
Finkelstein references Steve Jobs, Mickey Drexler, and Jeff Bezos as notably successful micromanagers. Their leadership style of maintaining a high degree of ownership in some areas while delegating to others is a critical distinction.
The takeaway? If you are a micromanager, you can use it to your advantage—and to your team’s advantage—by learning to delegate.
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Patrick Chalhoub on his passion for art, culture and retro-futurism