Avoiding the traps for new leaders

Beware the micromanager!

Recently I was asked to single out the leadership challenge I think inexperienced managers struggle with the most.

To me, it's the common misconception that every last detail should wear the leader's fingerprint. I see it all the time, the young manager exhausting his or her own time and energy, as well as everyone's patience, attempting to stamp their input on to every single task.

They're not doing it to be difficult; they simply believe it's what they're supposed to do.

Why I think young leaders struggle with this is because up until this point they've been the captain of their own ship. Their number one priority has been their own performance.

When they suddenly find themselves accountable for other people's performance, they instinctively tighten the reins and try to be across every last detail because they feel that's the best way to manage outputs. Some simply feel that their way is the only way, which is a very narrow-minded approach.

And so the micromanager is born - the fundamental negative consequences of which are threefold:

  1. A swelling bottleneck of uncompleted minor outputs, all of which require the manager's feedback;
  2. A claustrophobic environment where people are unaccountable, uninspired and under-challenged;
  3. And, probably the most significant issue, the leader never learns how to trust people.
Naturally, it's much easier in a small team to keep a close eye on the progress of delegated tasks, but if you aspire to climb the ranks and manage larger groups of people, it's essential to find the confidence to empower people to get the job done.

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It's a leader's responsibility, and in everyone's best interests, to create a working environment where people can develop their skills and confidence. People need opportunities and a level of autonomy to test themselves and learn from their mistakes. This will help the leader to identify individual strengths and weaknesses, and manage accordingly. This is the most effective method of building a team you can depend on.

What works for me is rewarding an individual's consistent, high performance with increased opportunities to step outside their comfort zone. Anticipate that they will make initial mistakes but, in the long-term, they will likely rise to the occasion, affording you the time and comfort to focus on bigger-picture priorities.

What's also important is setting a clear expectation: ensuring your team members understand the activities that require your input, and those you believe they're capable of managing on their own. Grey areas may still exist, so set ground rules for feedback, such as offering a recommended solution to a problem rather than just flagging it with you. This will help them to develop their problem-solving ability and confidence.

Though the direction and overall quality of a team's outputs ultimately rests on the leader's shoulders, every aspect of day-to-day activities should not - that's an impossible expectation. And like any bad habit, it's best to overcome the tendency to micro-manage sooner rather than later. Some people spend their whole careers struggling to get the balance right. Some people never learn.

Remember - leadership is always about the people. If you can't trust the people you're managing to do their job, you should ask yourself why that is.

Is it them, or is it you?

Alex Malley is chief executive of CPA Australia.

This article originally appeared on The New Zealand Herald

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