Micromanagers (Part 3/3): Look in the Mirror

In parts one and two of this series, we discussed the root cause of micromanagement and how you can respond as one who is being micromanaged. This third and last part of the series is written to you as a manager. Before you say, “That’s not me. I don’t micromanage.” Let’s look in the mirror. In part one of this series, I noted that most micromanagers don’t even know they are doing it. What are the signs of a micromanager (thanks to Jeff Foxworthy for the “if… you might be” construct):

  • If you’re never satisfied, and in your eyes something is always wrong with the work of your team… you might be a micromanager.
  • If you take issue with how work is done and are quick to offer unsolicited advice on how you would do it… you might be a micromanager.
  • If you frequently ask for updates from your team… you might be a micromanager.
  • If you often ask team members to CC you on emails… you might be a micromanager.
  • If you prefer that any communication with other teams, your peers, and especially your boss goes through you… you might be a micromanager.
  • If you often point out little mistakes (especially ones that are not important to the deliverable)… you might be a micromanager.
  • If you frequently request that team members let you review their work before sending it out… you might be a micromanager.

I get it. Details are important in business. But, be wary of these self-justifying traps:

  • My reputation is at stake; so I have to stay on top of this.
  • This is important, and we can’t make any mistakes.
  • I know the best way.
  • I have to make sure this work is up to my standards.
  • I need to control any communication with my boss.
  • I risk ridicule if I don’t have instant recall of any work my team is performing
  • Reviewing the work of my team is one of my more important roles.

Here are a few simple steps to escape your micromanagement tendencies. Be forewarned. It won’t be easy. Lean in. Your team will LOVE the outcome. 

Get over yourself. Business is the ultimate team sport. Stop behaving as if success depends so heavily upon you and your own efforts. Your career success is more dependent upon others than you realize. Stop rationalizing your micromanaging ways. Your good intentions make you a bottleneck that constrains the productivity of your team, dampens initiative, and suppresses creativity. Having your team so dependent upon you may fill some deep-seated personal need, but it holds them back and keeps you from investing time to grow your own skillset. 

Let go. You are too into the details. Let go of the minutiae. Yes, good managers follow up. The issue is a matter of degree. Micromanagers bore into ALL the details ALL the time. On the other hand, good managers establish effective and efficient routines for staying abreast of their team’s work. We use a shared Airtable base to post our respective Top Five priorities and post our brief weekly updates there as well. That tool allows us to unobtrusively stay abreast of each other’s current priorities and progress on them without interrupting each other. We accompany that tool with weekly one-on-ones between a manager and each direct support to both build relationship and discuss topics that require live conversation to effectively clarify expectations, solve problems, and relieve bottlenecks.  Another part of letting go is transferring accountability for outcomes and responsibility for methods (how the work is accomplished).  

Set clear expectations. A big reason you delve into the details is your own fault. You have not communicated in unmistakable terms what you expect. Consequently, your team members have to fill in the blanks by guessing. Despite their best efforts, they will misread your intentions. You then have to correct those misinterpretations. All the while your team members are stewing in frustration and saying to themselves, “Why didn’t you explain that to me upfront before I wasted my time!” As I noted above, when you’re laying out your expectations focus on the “what” and not the “how. Lastly, don’t forget an often overlooked element of setting expectations; namely,  identify what you expect in terms of reporting back to you. 

Expect occasional failure.  Very few business mistakes are fatal–either to the business or your career. We all know that we learn best and fastest through failure. Let your direct supports fail at times. But here again, keep your constructive feedback at an appropriate level. Constantly drawing attention to inconsequential errors only frustrates your direct supports and leads them to tune you out. Ask yourself, “Does this mistake matter to the outcome?” If not, let it go. As an aside, there are little yet recurring mistakes which can harm  Focus on your priorities. Reassess where and how you invest your time. Each manager has tasks that your team members cannot do.

Focus on those priorities. When you are doing the jobs of those you support, then you are not doing your job as a manager. 

I trust this series has helped you see a path for escaping an environment of micromanagement–whether you are the micromanager or work for one.