When we ask people to describe the worst boss they’ve worked for, almost everyone says, “Ugh, they wouldn’t stop micromanaging me!”
Yes, the dreaded micromanager. And before you stop reading, have you considered whether your staff would say that about you? Sometimes, micromanagers don’t even realize they’re doing it.
So, today we’re delving into what it means to micromanage, the downsides of doing so, and some tips for how to stop micromanaging.
What does micromanagement look like?
According to Gallup, a micromanager can be identified by one simple question: Is the team customer-obsessed or boss-obsessed?
They explain that in a boss-obsessed workplace, team members are most focused on what their supervisor thinks rather than on the mission, revenue, or customers. Employees have to constantly get approval or direction from their manager in order to take action or make decisions.
When a team is micromanaged, “The most important aspects of a project -- the ones everyone is worried about -- become the idiosyncratic (but irrelevant to success) specifications of the micromanaging boss.” - Ben Wigert and Ryan Pendell, Gallup
Sometimes the best way to know if you’re a micromanager is to hear it from the source – your employees. Asking staff for feedback may feel scary, but it’s the best way to know if it’s time to change your approach.
You can also ask yourself these questions to assess whether you micromanage:
- Do your employees regularly ask you for input or approval before taking action?
- How often are you checking in with your employees to weigh in on their projects?
- Do you feel that employees aren’t taking ownership of their work?
- Are actions or decisions delayed while employees are waiting on you to respond?
- Are you in too many meetings?
- Are you in meetings that involve “in-the-weeds” discussions?
What fuels micromanagement?
Getting to the root of micromanagement can help you figure out how to improve it. Oftentimes, it relates to mindsets and fears that can be addressed and adjusted over time.
Micromanagers tend to struggle with perfectionism, self-doubt, and trusting employees. They believe they need to carefully control all aspects of a project, or else the final result will be subpar or even fail – which could reflect poorly on them. Other micromanagers fear employees might outshine them, which causes them to cling to control so they can feel more influential.
Micromanagement can also be a sign that your team needs additional training so that they can be more independent. Or, it can indicate that you need to work on knowing how and when to delegate.
Why is it important to stop micromanaging?
This might seem obvious, but micromanaging makes life a whole lot harder – both for you and your employees. It prevents you from evaluating the big picture and prioritizing the most critical tasks you need to accomplish. Meanwhile, employees end up frustrated, demoralized, and disengaged.
In Liz Wiseman’s book, “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter,” she analyzes two leadership styles. One style, that of the “multiplier,” helps employees be more effective by multiplying their strengths. The other style, the “accidental diminisher,” inadvertently limits and diminishes their team.
One of the typical ways a boss might fall into being an “accidental diminisher” is when they play the role of “the rescuer.” This well-intentioned person wants to ensure their staff is successful, and to protect their reputation. So they swoop in to solve problems, take over, and “save the day.” But where does this lead? Their team ultimately becomes dependent on them. It traps employees and results in micromanagement.
Additionally, because micromanaged staff lack the ability to think independently, try new things, and even fail, they don’t innovate. This is a big drawback for companies in today’s marketplace that need to pivot quickly in the face of challenges and change.
Ultimately, when employees are micromanaged, they feel like their growth stagnates. This can quickly lead to employees who are unhappy, resigned, and burnt out.
How can I stop micromanaging?
Ask for staff feedback regularly: Sometimes there’s a fine line between support and micromanagement. To judge the difference, create a culture that encourages the continual flow of feedback between you and your team. Ask your employees on a regular basis about whether you’re providing either too much direction or not enough. They’re the best guide in helping you balance the two approaches effectively.
Understand what’s driving it within you: If you can become more aware of the underlying mindsets and fears that cause you to micromanage, you can start consciously catching those default tendencies and making the choice to let go of control. Are you expecting perfection? Do you fear failure? Is there some other reason you’re holding on to control?
Put yourself in your employee’s shoes: Think about how it would feel to be on the other side of the equation. Would you like being micromanaged? What type of freedom or support would you ideally want from a boss?
Instead of giving direction, ask a question: The next time you’re about to give a bunch of directions to an employee about how to go about a project, experiment with asking a question like “What support or clarity do you need to get started?”.
Let go of the reins with smaller projects first: If it feels hard to let go of control with some of the more significant projects, start with small tasks and lower-risk items. Try giving your team more autonomy and ownership of these projects and see what happens. If the results are positive, you’ll then feel more comfortable letting go of control in bigger ways.
Know your employees’ strengths and weaknesses: Understanding this will help you assign work accordingly. Then, you know you’ve assigned the best person for the job and trust that the project is headed in the right direction without needing much of your involvement.
Provide training opportunities: Instead of giving someone repeated directions about how to do certain tasks, put them through an in-depth course or seminar so they can more fully learn the required skillset. This will allow them to become an expert and exercise more independence and ownership.
Hold regular 1-on-1 meetings with employees: Having 1-on-1 meetings with your employees (typically bi-weekly) can lessen your impulse to start micromanaging. This meeting gives you the chance to hear regular updates and provide support, which makes it easier to trust that things are staying on the right track.