A Micromanager’s Guide To Self-Reflection
Patience is a virtue; one that I’ve come to appreciate even more after learning the hard way.
Upon being promoted to manager, my inexperience caused me great insecurity, leading me down an unproductive path of micromanagement — an itch you must not scratch if ever in such a position!
Distinguish Between Manager’s Accountability and Team Responsibility.
New managers often use accountability and responsibility interchangeably, but in reality, they have distinct meanings; Accountability ensures that results are achieved despite the given circumstances, while responsibility is fulfilling one’s duties to accomplish these results effectively.
When I stepped into my first leadership role, everything seemed to be in order — so I dove straight into the deep end. I planned for perfection and dragged my team to lengthy discussions about implementations, where I preached about my engineering days. After weeks of what I thought was hard work, the team was spinning its wheels with nothing to show but failure! The morale was low. It felt like quicksand — the more I struggled, the lower it sucked me down.
It has always been challenging to recognize the importance of mistakes as learning opportunities as I grew up in an environment where failures are stigmatized. But in the face of failure, I had to look deeply at my ego and realize how I negatively impacted my team by trying to control every aspect of their responsibility instead of supporting them throughout the decision-making process.
Leaders’ responsibilities go way beyond their team’s ability to deliver. It takes more than just standing for the teams’ decisions and actions. Instead, it’s recognizing performance patterns that can be used as guidance to help the team reach its objectives while allowing them freedom of movement — an art only adept leaders can master!
Know Your Game
Patience is a virtue when recognizing patterns in a team’s performance levels. Taking the time to assess individual maturity and abilities to perform independently can lead to valuable insights into how to communicate with that individual.
Usually, a disciplined approach is absent when organizations resort to off-the-shelf job descriptions rather than crafting unique ones suitable for their needs. Taking control by defining specifically tailored roles holds great potential in streamlining operations while avoiding miscommunication drama.
Such assessment requires a nuanced approach that considers each team member’s needs. Situational Leadership offers leaders an invaluable tool to tailor expectations and level of involvement, ensuring the right balance between guidance and autonomy in every situation.
This approach helps leaders to avoid micromanaging a senior member or abandoning a less experienced member. An effective leader must assess each employee’s readiness per task so that each level of competence gets its appropriate level of involvement.
Situational leadership Employees’ maturity levels
- M1 — Enthusiastic Beginner: Low competence with high commitment
- M2 — Disillusioned Learner: Low/middling competence with low commitment
- M3 — Capable but Cautious: Performer: High competence with low/variable commitment
- M4 — Self-reliant Achiever: High competence with high commitment
Situational leadership Leader styles
- S1 — Telling: Specific guidance and close supervision — High level of direction, Low level of support
- S2 — Selling: Explaining and persuading — Moderate level of direction, High level of support
- S3 — Participating: Let’s do it together — Low level of direction, Moderate level of support
- S4 — Delegating: Letting others do it requires no involvement
As I joined GumGum, I realized some inconsistency in performance between team members regarding on-call & support responsibilities. In contrast, the organization itself was pleased with the overall performance. It quickly became apparent that requests needed to be handled more efficiently internally within the team.
Another observation was that everyone in the organization understood our support process, but each person had different expectations.
I overcame my micromanaging tendencies and opened the door to collaboration, and using the participating S3 style, we made collective decisions by sharing insights and facilitating discussions. As a result of our collaborative efforts, we developed an effective Rules of Engagement document, which describes our team’s process for reviewing incoming requests, provides clear SLA to level set expectations, and provides some predictability to our lead time.
Now that everyone in the organization knows what to expect from us, do we know what to expect from our on-call & support engineer?
We had to agree on an internal definition of the on-call & support role as a team. I engaged in multiple discussions with each team member to assess their readiness level to perform on-call & support duties. Eventually, I decided to use the Telling S1 style to manage this situation.
By leveraging our ability to streamline support requests, we were able to move away from having the Technical Lead manually handle every request. Instead of relying on searching through messages or tickets without clear priority indicators, we now have a more autonomous process that requires fewer conversations among team members with clear communication of those expectations set in place.
As I progressed through my career and concluded my journey to find the reasons behind my previous team’s challenges, I discovered that my heavy-handed management style had always stifled my teams. But now, I can foster accountability through each individual’s sense of ownership following a three-fold approach.
- Upfront measurable goals are crucial to establishing clear and attainable objectives. An effective manager must tailor these objectives to the assigned engineer’s maturity level and be specific in defining the desired outcome. Setting these expectations will allow the team to know what constitutes acceptable, unacceptable, or exemplary behavior.
The following example shows how we approach new ideas at GumGum and how managers set clear expectations with a clear definition of success and acceptable or outstanding performance.
This example presents an open-ended problem, challenging engineers to deliver solutions that adhere to established standards without smothering creativity. With this broad approach and freedom of choice comes the exciting opportunity for those involved in implementation to decide upon their technical direction with balanced risk for the business — ownership and accountability.
- Public praise — GumGum rewards constructive behavior to drive efficiency and quality excellence rather than highlighting harmful shortcomings to promote emotional safety. Platforms like Lattice & Slack are used for shoutouts so employees can recognize each other’s achievements!
- Accountability, it is often easy to hold others accountable, but as a strong leader, you must hold yourself accountable for your team’s pitfalls. The first alternative for poor performance should be looking into how the individual’s responsibilities have been defined and executed; in other words, redirection, which means going back to goal setting, trying to find out what went wrong, and getting them back on track. Never reprimand or punish a learner — you’ll paralyze them with fear.
After some self-reflection, I realized that by setting expectations too high and reverting to micromanagement, I had inadvertently been pigeonholing my team and limiting their growth. There are many factors to consider when trying to get the most out of a team, from clear communication and feedback to being open-minded about alternate solutions.
From now on, remember that everyone’s opinion holds merit, regardless of yours or theirs. As a call to action for my readers, I hope you take this lesson of accountability as motivation to put trust in your team members and give them the space they need to succeed.