You and I recently tackled the hairy topic of micromanagement because it continues to persist despite the fact that it’s universally disliked. We can agree that no one has ever said, “I love to be micromanaged,” but have you ever been guilty of micromanaging others? Clearly there are undiagnosed cases, or it wouldn’t be the ongoing focus of new research. I felt compelled to follow up on this management pitfall because Gallup just released helpful ways to recognize the signs.
Some managers go out of their way to avoid micromanagement, and they discover that their efforts to loosen structure leave their teams to define their own roles. This macromanagement leads to conflict and overlap. Their hands-off tendencies also put a great deal into the assumptions column, which means outcomes don’t always align with management’s vision. What I find especially troubling with macromanagement is that you decrease your opportunities to positively influence your team.
Never miss a post about leadership, transparency, and trust by signing up for my weekly mailing list, delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.
Representing the other extreme, micromanagers have a corrosive effect on influence. Because every decision is scrutinized by and funneled through the leader, secrecy becomes a defense mechanism for the team. Everyone fears judgment because without early and frequent feedback, mistakes are inevitable. No one enjoys taking responsibility because the limelight focuses elsewhere as soon as something good happens.
Rather than arrive at one end of the spectrum to avoid the other, consider starting with a clarifying question about micromanagement like this one from Gallup: “Is your team customer-obsessed or boss-obsessed?”
Ben Wigert and Ryan Pendell say, “A boss-obsessed team is easy to identify. The only thing that matters is what the boss thinks. Not mission, not revenue, not customers.” Wigert and Pendell add that today’s micromanager “is likely someone who wants it done in exactly their way but provides little context, support, help or advice.”
In fact, 47 percent of employees report having received feedback from their manager “a few times a year” or less. A colleague once told me of a micromanaging boss they had who was never available at the beginning of a project but, as the project came to fruition, would berate the team for not meeting the exact specifications she had not communicated early on.
Micromanagement for the employee is demoralizing because it robs the employee of autonomy and ability to exercise their ingenuity. Wigert and Pendell present two opposing roles that are especially useful in crystallizing two leadership styles. They explain that you can choose to be a micromanager or a coach. The micromanager “tells” and focuses on the “how,” while the coach “asks” and explains the “why.” The micromanager wants to own your work and gives feedback too late, yet the coach wants you to own the work and gives ongoing input.
I hope you found this one-question test and role analysis as illuminating as I did. These prompts have broad applications for the workplace as well as for life. Ask yourself if you’re the micromanager or the coach at work, with your family, or in your volunteer service. Does your behavior pass the test? If not, examine how you can be a better coach by explaining the “why” to empower autonomy, offering feedback early and often, and giving ownership of a job well done.