When you lead other people, there is no shortage of learning opportunities. After all, humans are varied and complicated, and circumstances change constantly. Factor in into the mix your own strengths, vulnerabilities, and triggers, and things get really interesting. This is the reason many of my clients aren’t clear about how to follow up and follow through with direct reports without overstepping. It’s true that a few employees will accuse even the best leaders of micromanaging, often as a way to avoid accountability for their lack of capability or ownership of the work. Sometimes, the leader’s gender influences how much or how little direction the employee is willing to accept. Additionally, the company culture influences the extent to which these complaints are taken seriously. In general, however, true micromanaging goes beyond typical managerial follow up and follow through. The critical distinction is the MANNER in which you get your team to accomplish the work. This, in turn, hinges on how you see yourself – your IDENTITY. Here are a few key differences in how you know whether or not you’re micromanaging.
MicromanagingYou’re more likely to “micromanage” others when you see yourself at the center of the issues that come your way. In other words, your identity is that of a “fixer”. You believe the spotlight is on you to perform using your technical expertise, capabilities, and performance. In other words, you overly focus on the tasks to be done as opposed to attending to the interpersonal elements involved. When you see yourself at the center of the work as the fixer, you might focus too much on your technical competence and on your position to get things done. Thus, you may:
- Believe your technical knowledge and capabilities are superior to that of your team and are what make others want to be led by you.
- Portray yourself as “right”, “strong” and/or “in charge”, exhibiting your strengths and hiding your vulnerabilities.
- Expect respect you based on primarily your position.
- Make decisions and insist on employees’ work being done your way without their input, even in non-urgent or emergency situations.
- Focus on the technical aspects of the work rarely if ever refer to the reason for the work and its impact to the team, customer, community, or company.
- “Hover” and often jump in to do the work yourself because “it’s faster if I do it” or “they won’t do it right”.
- Ignore putting in place systems and shared understandings of how to work together, so your follow up may seem haphazard or unpredictable and taken personally as blame.
- Take it personally and/or look for who is to blame when things go wrong.
- Surround yourself with others who reinforce your view of yourself as the most competent.
Leading Without MicromanagingIn contrast, you’re more likely to lead without micromanaging when you take the focus off of yourself and put it on the challenge, issue, or opportunity. Thus, you identify yourself as a “facilitator”. Even with competent technical skills, you know that the “soft skills” of understanding and engaging people is key to mobilizing their abilities. You rely less on your formal authority and relate to others using more informal influence instead. You are more likely to:
- Honor your strengths and own your vulnerabilities without trying to hide either.
- See yourself as a resource for your team and as a steward of ideas and talent.
- Hold yourself and direct reports accountable for deviations from purpose, values, objectives, and systems.
- Stay with conflict and dissension within your team to channel it into productive discussion.
- Give credit and take the blame.
- Value talent and seek those who complement your capabilities and add to the team’s capabilities to do the work.
- Focus on creating conditions that grow and harness team capabilities to accomplish the work.
- Spend time clarifying roles and responsibilities to make sure your team knows who owns the various aspects of the work.
- State the purpose and objectives for tasks and projects to focus your team on what’s important to guide the work.
- Get input from your team on what’s working and what’s not working.
- Set up formal, systematic ways to follow up and check in with each other to make sure the work is on track and to address unexpected obstacles and accountability, to get other support, or to celebrate successes.
- Approach some aspects of the work experimentally, addressing calculated risks, mistakes, and failures as learning opportunities.