You’re Not Managing Enough

Judd Antin
One Big Thought
Published in
6 min readMar 7, 2024


Everyone knows that one of a people manager’s most important jobs is to help their direct reports grow. To give them the space, encouragement, and stretch projects that build skills and capacity.

And to do all that without committing the worst possible sin: micro-management. Pretty much everyone I’ve ever met has suffered under a micro-manager — someone who hovers over, nit-picks, and smothers their direct reports. Usually because of insecurity, lack of trust, and/or sheer incompetence.

In a recent survey of tech workers, 39% of respondents said micro-managing is the worst possible trait in a boss. That’s far more than any other single trait. Not only that, but in a different survey almost 75% of respondents said micro-management is the #1 sign of a toxic workplace. Yikes.

Given how horrible it is to be micro-managed, I get why management narratives have been so focused on doing the opposite.

Support, trust, freedom, space. Fly! Be free! It’s beautiful.

But I think maybe we’ve over corrected.

Don’t Spray the Beta

Recently my family took up indoor rock climbing, so bear with me as I go hard on this analogy.

One common form of indoor climbing is called “top roping.” We step up to the wall, which already has a rope looped up through a secure point at the top and back down again. We tie into either end of the rope — one of us to climb, the other to belay (keep the climber safe).

A person standing at the bottom of an indoor climbing wall, looking up and holding the rope.
If you’re climbing, it’s a long way down. Better have an active belayer all along the way!

The climber has the hard job. They’ve got to make their way up through small moves and big ones. They try, fall, and work each problem until they can move past it and keep climbing. It’s active as hell.

But the job of a good belayer is pretty active too. They’re vigilant, taking up the slack, hand always on the rope. Their job isn’t just to catch the fall, but to provide the sense of safety that lets a climber take a risk. They don’t just do that job on the ground. Most of it — the most important parts by far — happen all along the way, from start to finish. (Anyone starting to get the analogy??)

Of course, an over-active belayer is terrible too. Pull too hard on the rope and you’re taking their weight, upsetting their balance, and robbing them of valuable experience.

But it can get worse.

Information about how to climb a particular route is called beta. (Fun fact — the name comes from the days when outdoor climbers used to record their routes on Betamax tapes.) When someone is over-sharing information about what to do next, calling out left-hand, right-foot like we’re playing Twister, that’s called spraying the beta.

Climbers hate when people spray the beta the same way people hate micro-management, and for most of the same reasons. Bad belayers spray the beta.

But a good belayer is also a model for a good manager — maybe a better one than a lot of the current management advice provides. (And now, to bring this analogy all the way home! 🤦🏽)

As managers, we can be so afraid of micro-management that we risk moving into passive territory. We’re made to believe our main job is putting people in position to grow, and then going hands off to give them the space to do it.

But that’s like encouraging a climber to take on a harder route, cheering them as they start while you check out TikTok instead of holding fast to the rope.

To do their best, that climber needs an active belay from start to finish. It’s easy to try again when the rope caught you and you only fell a few feet. These are the most educational failures — it’s those big ones that you want to avoid.

After all, it’s not the fall that gets you, it’s the sudden stop at the bottom.

Active But Not Over-Active

If this over-wrought climbing analogy teaches us anything, I hope it’s that pro-active managing and micro-managing are far from the same thing. A good manager does far more than setting someone on the path and encouraging them to do their best.

If that’s all you’re doing, then you’re not managing enough.

You’ve got to be more active, but in the right ways.

Here are three ways good managers support their people in learning and growing, but without micro-managing.

An illustration of two women standing in front of a climbing wall, having a discussion about the climb they are about to do.
Climbing, just like managing, is a consistent team sport. Make a plan, provide clarity, give access, and keep that going from start to finish!

Provide clarity. Setting someone loose on an ambiguous task, with little information about expectations, roles, and outcomes is a recipe for disaster. A good manager is an active guide around the what and the why. Clear goals, motivations, and expectations, with lots of context. All without prescribing the how.

This isn’t a conversation that happens once, at the start. One thing about climbing — when you’re up there struggling, it can be hard to see what’s around you. Sometimes the view from below is just what you need. In work, too, clarity usually needs to be reestablished at regular intervals. The reality of making progress smudges and smears all the crispness you started with.

Give Access, Context. The practice of work is often less glamorous than it seems from the outside. We have a tendency to dramatize and over-complicate activities we’re not familiar with. You might find my description of rock climbing terrifying and impossible. But I bet if you head down to your local gym and find someone to show you the ropes (ha!), it won’t be for long.

So, the good manager move is to provide access that reveals the context of the project. If I’m asking you to present to the CEO next week, I might also get you invited to the meeting this week, and share recent presentations with you.

We’ll talk through the complexities and the social dynamics of the people involved. It’s not fair to expect you to figure that out yourself — it’d be like inviting you to climb without teaching you about safety, etiquette, or gym culture.

The expectation isn’t that you do it like I do. It’s just that demystifying the whole thing is an active, consistent management process that sets you up for success.

Make a plan.

We’re standing on the ground together, looking up at the climb. You could just go for it, knowing I’ve got your back. But the smart move is probably to take a second and make a plan.

How are you going to tackle this? What are the phases and milestones? What seems like the toughest part?

This is totally different than spraying the beta. I’m not trying to guide your every move, whether you asked me or not. The how is up to you. Instead, I’m working with you to create a template for getting to your own solution. After all, no two people climb the same way!

Once again, this isn’t a one time move. It’s common for the climber to stop along the way, resting and regrouping while the belayer takes their weight. In the same way, a good, active manager move is to check in on a regular basis to see how things are going, how things are mapping to expectations (or not), and how we should adapt the plan.

Do More (Often)

Other than the egregious climbing metaphor, you might have noticed one think I keep coming back to: it isn’t enough for a manager to set someone off on the right track. The reality of work will constantly knock you around and change your plan, smudging and smearing all the crispness you started with. So you’ve got to keep the conversation going.

Comic book style art of two superhero hands giving each other a fist bump.
Nothing makes you feel more like a superhero than getting down safe again. What a team!

Many managers are so afraid of micro-managing, that they just don’t manage enough. They confuse disengagement with productive space. But a good people manager stays engaged throughout, without hovering, second guessing, or taking over.

Standing on the ground looking up at a climber who you want to see succeed — it can feel disempowering. They’re up there, you’re down here — you couldn’t jump in for them if you wanted to.

But that’s exactly what it should feel like. It turns out there’s a lot you can do, but no matter what, it’s them up there on that wall. Stay engaged, stay encouraging, and let them do their thing, all the while preparing that spicy fist bump for when they make it down safe again.

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Judd Antin
One Big Thought

Executive coach, consultant, writer, teacher on leadership, management, social psychology, product design — Ex-Airbnb, Ex-Meta, Ex-Yahoo —