Video: How to Stop Micromanaging
The Rise and Fall of James the Smart CEO
James was the smart, articulate and charismatic CEO of a dynamic growing firm. He had a vision of what he wanted to accomplish and he was confident that he would achieve his goals. With his enthusiasm and his gift of gab, James had no problem assembling a team of smart professionals to work with him.
These professionals, many of them superstars in their respective industries, came to work with James with great enthusiasm. They shared his vision for the company and they committed themselves to achieving it. For James and his team, success seemed a foregone conclusion.
How could this talented team of committed professionals not succeed?
Despite hard work and good intentions, however, James and his team did not succeed. What happened? James happened!
James unconsciously sabotaged his own success because he micromanaged his superstars. He never fully gave his talented team members the authority to make the important decisions that came with their positions. He was overly involved in the creative and administrative processes and this slowed down organizational decision-making. He failed to consider opinions that differed from his own. At his core, James had a strong need to be the center of all things and this was why he micromanaged everyone.
James is not the only smart leader to suffer from micromanagement, however. In my work with organizations, I frequently hear talented employees complain about their boss being a micromanager. It's a leadership failing that affects many smart leaders.
Why Do Managers Micromanage?
Why do smart leaders hire talented people and then frustrate these talented employees by micromanaging them? There are many reasons why smart leaders micromanage their teams. In my experience, I've found that the root cause of micromanagement often lies in fear.
Fear is a powerful motivator and this is a reason why some leaders can never evolve beyond micromanaging. Leaders who struggle with micromanagement often have to conquer one or more of the following fears:
- an excessive need to control workplace outcomes (fear by the leader that s/he won't get the results that s/he wants)
- too much emphasis on “how the work is done” rather than on “what work is done” (fear by the leader that the work won't be done properly)
- an inability to share recognition with others (fear by the leader that s/he will lose her or his central place in the organization)
- an excessive dislike of organizational conflict (fear by the leader that there will be resentment in the workplace)
Further, some leaders never evolve from micromanaging their talented team members because they do not see it as a problem. They'll express something like the following: What's the harm with micromanaging? Aren't we getting the work done and meeting company objectives?
Micromanaging has real costs for organizations, however. It harms morale, promotes employee turnover, stifles workplace innovation, and it wastes an organization's human capital. All of these negative outcomes have quantifiable costs.
How to Stop Micromanaging Your Team
If you suffer from micromanagement (and many of us have at some time in our leadership evolution), here’s six actions that you can take to stop micromanaging your team:
1. Admit your own shortcomings that prevent you from letting your capable team members perform their work. (What’s your real fear that prevents you from relinquishing control and trusting your team members to do their work?)
2. Confront your fear. (Use rationalization to keep your fear in perspective. Identify the positive outcomes you will achieve from facing your fear. Take actions that combat your fear—face it, attack it, desensitize it.)
3. Identify specific micromanaging actions that you routinely practice in the workplace. Make your own list and get feedback from your team members. (What is it that you are doing in the workplace that is micromanaging to your team members? What are you doing in the workplace that feels like micromanagement to your team members?)
4. Develop a list of alternative actions that you can start doing to replace these micromanaging activities. (Be specific. For example, can you share more information with your team so they have to consult with you less often? Can you better define what you want from your team members at the start of a project so they can own the project themselves? Can you develop and train your staff in different areas so they can take on additional work?)
5. Learn and apply the principles of effective delegation. (Take a seminar. Read a book. Shadow an effective manager.)
6. Redirect your leadership focus from controlling your talented work team members to coaching and supporting them. (Adopt Drucker’s eight practices.)
As you work to rid yourself of this self-defeating behavior, keep the words of Stephen Covey at the front of your mind:
If you can hire people whose passion intersects with the job, they won’t require any supervision at all. They will manage themselves better than anyone could ever manage them. Their fire comes from within, not from without. Their motivation is internal, not external.
If you've had that honest conversation with yourself and you've accepted the hard truth that you do micromanage your team, there's hope. Steve Jobs was a reformed micromanager. After being forced out of Apple (the company that he co-founded), he went on to launch another company (NeXT computer) that did not succeed. Steve learned from these very public failures and his return to Apple was an undisputed success. Apple is now the world's most valuable brand.
So, how should you manage your Superstars?
Tell them what you need, give them your support, and then get out of their way and let them do their jobs.
You've Hired Superstars! It's Time to Stop Micromanaging Them!