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Are You a Micro or Macro Manager?

I bet you’ve never heard, “I love to be micromanaged.”

For 10 years, Google has studied what qualities make the best managers so it could train leaders to develop those behaviors. Not surprisingly, number two on the list is “empowers team and does not micromanage.” EQ Applied author Justin Bariso explains that great managers give their people the freedom they crave—freedom to explore their ideas, take smart risks and learn from mistakes.

If no one wants to be micromanaged, do they want to be macromanaged instead? At first glance, that sounds like the perfect boss: hands off, loose parameters and flexible about outcomes. In reality, this other end of the spectrum doesn’t work either. In fact, it can be more damaging than micromanagement. Without structured leadership, employees may struggle to develop themselves and ineffectively collaborate on team projects.

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So how do you tell if you’re a macromanager?  Stop Spending, Start Managing author Tanya Menon says two telltale signs are that 1) direct reports don’t understand their roles, which creates conflict and 2) when you assume you’ve been clear about communicating what you want out of a team and they come up with a completely different outcome than what you expected.

What I find equally troubling about macromanagement is you decrease your chances for positively influencing your team. Demanding deadlines and aspirational goals require the support of strong leadership. Also at stake is the opportunity to grow your employees and prepare them for increasingly complex projects and expanding responsibilities.

Rather than choose between extremes, find a midpoint somewhere between micro- and macro-management. Choose smart talent to begin with and trust them to work the problem. Balance this approach with clear goal-setting and incremental measures of success, such as key performance indicators (KPIs). Here are a few guidelines inspired by Mona Patel, CEO of Motivate Designs:

  • Describe your goals in “why-terms” and let your team members determine the best “how” to get there. When you contextualize a goal, you inform better decision-making.
  • Empower your employees to achieve goals by helping them acquire skills to create better outcomes—either by training them yourself, identifying someone else to provide training or looking outside of the organization for resources.
  • Connect with individual team members on a cadence that fits the project. Use those opportunities to brainstorm solutions, provide performance feedback, and solicit input. Give them room to create and problem-solve during the in-between time.

No leader wants to be pegged as a micromanager, but macromanagement clearly isn’t the answer either. Consider creating a climate with defined roles, clear goals and incremental check-ins along the way. Then let your talent devise the best way to reach those goals with the resources you’ve provided.

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