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Micromanagement — what is it and how can we avoid it?

Be leader, lead from the front.

Avoid the manager? Poor employee engagement? Swamped with low-priority jobs? Doesn’t listen to employees? Finds delegating tasks hard?

Those examples above are just a small number of signs someone is a micromanager. Sound familiar? Maybe your boss or maybe it's you?

Micromanaging in the broadest of definitions is:

“a boss or manager who gives excessive supervision to employees. A micromanager, rather than telling an employee what task needs to be accomplished and by when, will watch the employee’s actions closely and provide frequent criticism of the employee’s work and processes.” (Investopdia)

Micromanagement is no art. It’s a death sentence for any team, business or organisation. It suffocates and desensitises employees and stifles ambition.

There is a loss of control when staff become micromanaged. As a manager, the tools you have become severely out of reach until the only tool you have left is control. When your only means of management is control, you end up losing that too. There are many styles of management and by and large every employee will react differently to each one, however, when you limit your own style you limit your ability to communicate and, in the end, your ability to manage.

So, how can we avoid it?

Firstly, reflect on behaviour. The first step is to develop an understanding why you (or someone else) micromanages. One of the more common factors is because of some insecurity. There are other factors such as using excuses as to why you micromanage. “It’ll save time if I do it myself”, “too much is at stake if this [task] goes wrong”. Micromanaging is bad for any team, it stops a team from growing. If you learn to stop micromanaging you’ll have time to do your own job.

Secondly, get feedback. There is often a disconnect between what a manager/leader would like and what the team are actually experiencing. You may suspect there is a problem, however, your constant hovering already annoys your team. Feedback is imperative to see how significant the issue may be. Use a third-party, someone independent and ask them to undertake a cross-evaluation assessment. Gather important and confidential data from your team. Feedback is absolutely essential to see how significant an issue is. By using an independent person, the assessment remains confidential, the team will be more likely to be honest knowing this. What you hear may be sobering, hard to absorb and you may feel a sense of disagreement but it is essential to understanding the wider patterns and the impact [your micromanaging has] on the team.

Lastly, prioritise what matters — and what doesn’t. A good leader trains the team. You simply cannot do that if you’re taking on every task, regardless of the importance. Start by developing a critical task list, the work you need to be involved in. Then look at less critical tasks. Look at the less critical tasks to determine which low-hanging fruit you can pass on. On your list, look at each item and highlight the big-ticket items where you add value and impact and ensure you manage your time to those tasks effectively.

“Micromanaging displaces the real work of leaders, which is developing and articulating a compelling and strategically relevant vision for your team.” (Chatman)

To add to that, talk to your team, don’t be afraid to step back, know your employees’ limitations and the most important one, build trust. Without trust, you have nothing.