Micromanagement is not a leadership strategy.

Don’t do this!

“Micromanager” should not ever be a word used to describe your leadership style. Micromanaging isn’t leading, it’s controlling. It isn’t mentoring, it’s anti-learning. It isn’t supportive, it’s undermining. Every person on the team needs to be granted the time, space, and authority to do their job. A micromanaging leader wrecks the team on a daily basis. It’s a horrible, terrible, unempowering, insecure, fearful way to lead. Don’t do it. Please, please, please, don’t do it.

Micromanagers develop this particularly unattractive leadership approach for different reasons, but here are three types I’ve seen repeatedly over the years.

1. The Deliberate Micromanager: You’re a control freak.

I knew an executive leader who was rabid in her need to control. She would lie to her own team to ensure she was the only one who knew when a new program or project would roll out. The thing she “wasn’t even thinking about yet” would be announced as a major initiative three months later with all the external partners already under contract. “It’s confidential” or “we don’t have permission to publish that information yet” was widely known as code for “I know exactly what’s happening and I’m not telling you until I’m ready.”

Control freaks make horrible leaders. Control freaks should work for themselves and refrain from having employees. I’m not trying to be funny. Honestly, if you are a control freak to the degree you can’t let other people thrive, you should not be the leader of other people. Control freaks can be wildly successful working on their own and then have a life where far fewer people say bad things about them. Go do that.

2. The reluctant micromanager: You make bad hires.

You too often hire people who are not well equipped for their positions and so you feel like you have to constantly hover so they don’t do anything stupid. You realize mentoring or extra training would be a better approach but honestly, it seems easier to take over for them.

If you notice a trend of hiring people who turn out to be “bad hires”, you need to hire people differently or develop a mentoring process. Micromanaging someone who isn’t equipped or isn’t a good fit for the job they were hired to do means you aren’t getting your job done, which means you aren’t leading the rest of the team very well either. The new hire and the team will get frustrated with you pretty quickly. Eventually the “bad hire” will leave or you will fire them. In the meantime, nobody’s happy or super productive.

Quick ideas for interviewing:

  • Talk about work culture. If a candidate’s preferred work culture is opposite the culture of your office, a great set of skills won’t be enough. For example, if she believes in rigid work schedules for her team and your office embraces the flexible schedules her team already has, it’s not a match.
  • Call references yourself. Ask for more than dates of employment. Ask questions about problem-solving style, communication style and sense of humor. Get a feel for his personality.
  • Use group interviews after you’ve narrowed candidates to 2 or 3. Listen to what your team thinks about each person. If they all prefer your third choice, there may be a lesson there about your prior not-so-great choices.
  • Make sure you’re talking about the position description and responsibilities. Sometimes interviewing becomes rote and not specific. You may hire someone you like or who seems to be competent, but perhaps not best for a particular position.

3. The Unaware Micromanager: You have fundamental insecurity about your own leadership.

You may constantly fear being exposed as an imposter leader, but you wouldn’t admit as much to anyone, including yourself. As a result, you worry the hell out of everyone who reports to you, because after all, they may also be imposters and their mistakes will reflect poorly on you.

Think this might be you? You always keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening within your organization, but is it too much? Have you ever had nagging in the back of your mind about your style as perhaps more intrusive than supportive?

Do you:

  • hear hallway whispers of frustration like “doesn’t she have enough of her own work to do?!” or “wish she’d back off”?
  • randomly and frequently call members of senior management into your office, or show up in theirs, to get updated on their work? Could these things just as easily be reported in a weekly or monthly team meeting?
  • insist on reviewing emails or other routine communications before they go out? Do you tell senior leadership how to write or say things even when you know they’re good at communication?
  • find reasons to contact board members or funders after someone else on the team has had a meeting or conversation with them to make sure it went well? Do you tell yourself you needed to check up on them even when you know you didn’t?
  • take a project away from someone without talking to them about it because you spontaneously decide you can do it better? Do you tell yourself it’s ok because now they’ll have time to do other things? Do you fail to ever ask them how you taking the project made them feel?

If you see yourself in yes answers to some or most of these questions, you may (probably) have a micromanagement problem.

Embrace this new self-awareness! Ask someone you trust to give you some honest feedback. Keep track of how you spend your time for a week or two. Is most of your focus on your own work or on the work being done by everyone else? Start paying more attention to your interactions with senior leadership. Are you calling them or showing up at their office to ask about their work far more often than they are calling you or stopping by your office to ask for guidance? Is the conversation most often about how you can be supportive or is it more directive (bossy) in nature? Is it more “how’s it going?”, “is there anything you need from me?” or “let me see your progress on…”, “have you finished…”?

If you see too much micromanagement in your style, now what?

Continue to raise your own awareness

Tell yourself at the beginning of the workday to be mindful of whose job you’re doing throughout the day. At the end of the day, ask yourself how you did. When you catch yourself calling someone just to check up on them, ask yourself if you’re calling to offer support with a task you know is challenging or if you’re micromanaging again. Like with meditation, each awareness builds a better foundation for the next awareness.

Consider executive coaching

Your board may approve for the organization to pay for executive coaching. It’s executive development money well spent. If the budget is super tight or you are a more private type, think about paying for it yourself. Again, money well spent. If you can’t locate good executive coaching in your area, there are virtual coaching options. I’m not familiar enough with virtual coaching to make an endorsement, but a quick google search results in a number of companies.

Consider less formal mentoring

Who is a local CEO or business leader you know and respect? Would they agree for you to take them to lunch or meet at their office once a month for informal mentoring? You might be surprised how many of your colleagues would be happy if not honored to do this. I’ve been on both sides of informal mentoring and it’s always proven to be productive for both of us.

Consider therapy

Don’t toss this option aside! Therapy is the ultimate safe space and can help clarify the basis of your fear or insecurity. Your company may have an Employee Assistance Program to provide a few sessions free of charge. I’ve benefited from therapy more than once in my life and more than once for work-related challenges.

To review: micromanaging is not leading. Don’t micromanage. Do lead.