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The Perils of Micromanagement (and How Leaders Can Fix It)

Attention to detail is a good leadership skill.

But there is a thin line between ensuring teams are performing well and micromanagement.

And it can be easy for leaders to slip into the latter and become control freaks without even realising it.

Often micromanagers don’t know they are micromanaging.

It might go against everything we teach on our business coaching and management skills training courses, but micromanagement is a big issue.

Many of us will have experienced it in previous roles and earlier stages of our careers. And it is one of the main reasons why people look to move on from their jobs.

So, how can leaders identify that they are micromanaging? And how do they sit back and empower their teams to carry out the work they are employed to deliver and move to a coaching style of leadership?

To answer these questions and look more closely at the perils of micromanagement, I had a chat with Tienie Loubser, an independent executive coach.

I began by asking him about the risks.

And it quickly became apparent there are many, both to the leader and the business.


Risks

Firstly, micromanagement is not sustainable. Focusing on the minutia, having an “I’ll do it myself attitude”, and fearing that others will mess a task up if you are not involved leads to long days and excessive work hours.

And that, in turn, results in burnout. The only question is how long will it take for a leader to reach that stage.

Micromanagement can also create a bottleneck. If everything has to be approved by a leader, then it can delay progress. And prevent tasks from being completed as quickly as they could.

That can mean targets being missed and is an inefficiency that could have financial implications.

But the most significant impact is on those who are micromanaged.

Being in a team led by a micromanager is frustrating and demotivating.

Tienie says someone who is micromanaged will not be creative or think for themselves. They will instead go through the motions and complete the minimum. On our business coaching courses, we talk about it being the difference between someone ‘complying’ and ‘durably committing’.

In short, it is the difference between someone who simply agrees to do something and someone willing to move obstacles out of the way and suggest other things to consider.

Tienie said: “I bet most people can relate to being micromanaged. I’ve certainly been micromanaged at times.

“What it does subconsciously is disempower the individual. What business coaching does, when done properly, is empower the individual.

“The difference between the two situations is how motivated someone is. When you are micromanaging or disempowering someone, you are moving their motivation to comply.

“When you are coaching someone and are empowering them, you are moving their motivation to commit and durably commit.

“And that leads to a big difference in output. People start becoming birds in nests waiting to be fed by the micromanager. They have a ‘tell me what to do, and I’ll do it’ attitude. And that diminishes creativity and facilitates mediocre contributions.”

And this situation can lead to more people looking to move on. Micromanagement makes people quit. It is regularly cited as one of the top three reasons why people resign.

“For me, it goes back to what Steve Jobs said about not hiring people to tell them what to do. A great leader has people stronger than them around them, and they facilitate the work around that. They don’t feel threatened by the stronger people around them.

“When you micromanage, it suggests you are threatened by the stronger people around you.”



“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Steve Jobs




Warning signs

We’ve looked at the risks. But how do leaders know if they have become micromanagers?

Tienie says bosses can slip into micromanagement because of the fear of failure many of us have and how that makes us look.

And many micromanage without realising they are doing it.

But there are some signs to look out for.


Overstretched

Tienie says that when leaders begin to feel overstretched, it tends to be a symptom of micromanaging.

“It means there are probably things you are involved in that you don’t need to be involved in,” he said.

Getting involved in every task and pouring over every detail also shows you are controlling more than trusting.


Abrupt tone

And because leaders feel stretched, the way they talk to their teams becomes increasingly abrupt. Even rude.

They may have little time for conversations or cut team members off when they offer their suggestions and thoughts. They may seem irritated when someone makes a decision without consulting them.

And there is unlikely to be any praise, even when work exceeds expectations.


Competitive

Feeling increasingly competitive, seeking vindication and needing to feel superior to others are also signs of micromanagement.

And because of this, leaders might take more pride in changing people’s work and showing their way is best (even when it isn’t).


How can we fix the micromanagement problem?

As you can see, these warning signs are all closely linked to ego. And that can make leaders oblivious to their behaviour. Tienie calls this being “ego drunk”, and not only will these leaders fail to see the warning signs, but they can’t see that the way they are leading is an issue.

However, if leaders are able to notice the warning signs, there are a few things they can do.

And it begins with letting go. Leaders should consider those tasks that don’t need their attention and delegate them to teams. Take the micro out of micromanaging.


Pontificating

Tienie says this should be followed by putting a stop to pontificating. By that, he means leaders should stop laying down the law and dictating how things should be done. Accept that the specialist skills and knowledge of team members put them in a better position to decide how things should be done, and focus instead on what needs to be done.


Give credit

It can be easy to overlook the value of giving credit. But it is crucial leaders acknowledge and showcase success.

It helps them feel appreciated valued, builds trust and boosts motivation.

Tienie said: “A great leader gives the team credit for success and solely takes the hit for the team’s failure. The whole business arena is moving into this space.

“It is no more a leadership of authoritarianism and ‘do as I say because I’m the specialist’. Leaders aren’t specialists anymore. They need to become specialists of people. The people you interact with have a specialism you need to capitalise on to help your business grow or be relevant in the next five years.”

But perhaps the most vital first step in moving leaders away from micromanagement, whether they can see it or not, is to create a culture of feedback. Leaders should invest time talking to their teams, finding out what they need and how they think things can improve.

“The first stage of moving away from micromanagement to coaching is feedback,” says Tienie.

“Leaders need to receive feedback from their team. What can you do better? How should you do things differently? What areas do they think you need to develop to become a better leader for them?

“Asking for feedback takes courage and a smaller ego. But it is crucial because today’s world is not about the leader. It is about outcome creating a great experience for the people who work for you.”




The BCF group has been helping organisations develop their talent, inspire their people and overcome obstacles and challenges for the past 25 years.

We deliver training that makes a difference. Find out more about our business coaching, management training and interpersonal skills options.



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