Micromanagement: a bad habit you need to ditch now

Managers must tread a delicate balance between supervising an employee’s performance and giving them autonomy over their work.

Micromanagement is a bad habit that can destroy creativity and innovation, yet many leaders who micromanage regard themselves as thorough and capable. What are the signs that you should look for if you suspect you are micromanaging your team?

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It’s easy to spot a micromanager – especially when it’s your boss who is breathing down your neck. It’s more difficult, however, to recognise if you are the one who is guilty of micromanagement.

Managers must tread a delicate balance between supervising an employee’s performance and giving them autonomy over their work. Many leaders overstep into micromanagement without realising it, says Michelle Gibbings, a leadership expert who has worked as a coach in many large organisations.

“One of the biggest complaints that I hear is: ‘I don’t feel like my manager trusts me’,” she says. “The root cause is often a manager who is overly controlling of processes and tasks.”

This lack of trust can disempower employees and damage both productivity and team morale. It can also lead to disengagement among team members who feel that their potential to add value in their role is overlooked by their overbearing manager.

“Their ability to operate at their best is really compromised,” says leadership coach Stacey Ashley FCPA of Ashley Coaching.

Micromanagement can also hinder innovation, she says, as employees feel unable to suggest new ideas or improvements to existing processes.

What others say about your managing style

The most reliable way to establish if you have a tendency to micromanage is to carry out a 360-degree review with your team.

“It’s often hard as an individual to analyse your behaviour and how it impacts other people. You can look for warning signs, but you may miss them,” Gibbings says.

“Invite people in your team to provide feedback on your leadership style – what’s working for them and what’s not.”

Make sure that the review is anonymous and assure participants you will act on their feedback in good faith.

“Your team members are only going to give you feedback if they trust that you’re not going to shoot the messenger,” she says.

How to stop micromanaging

Micromanagement often stems from a lack of faith in the ability of others. One solution is to ensure you build a strong team that you feel you can rely on.

“It’s hiring the right people, looking at their skill sets and making sure that you’re giving them the right resources and the right coaching so that they can succeed, and then stepping back,” Gibbings says.

Allow your direct reports leeway to make decisions and exercise responsibility for a project.

“Give them enough bandwidth to be able to show what they’re capable of,” she says.

From the start, set clear parameters so that every member of the team is working towards a united goal and understands what you expect of them. Gibbings recommends establishing a pre-agreed schedule for checking in on progress – and sticking to it.

“Have weekly one-on-ones or fortnightly catch-ups – whatever framework you need so you can keep in touch with what’s going on.”

Switch your focus from micro to macro. Let employees do the work they were hired to do, freeing you up to concentrate on top-tier issues such as strategy and business development.

If everyone in your team disappoints you – ask why. Either you’ve hired the wrong people, or your expectations are unrealistic.

Focus on the outcome, not the process. If an employee takes a different approach to the one you would have taken to achieve the desired goal, don’t step in to redirect them.

“Recognise that often things can be done in multiple ways, and your way isn’t necessarily always the best way,” Gibbings says.

1. You need constant updates from your team

If you give your team a specific time-frame in which to complete a task, but feel compelled to check in with their progress multiple times a day, you could be guilty of micromanaging, Ashley says.

Continually checking in with employees undermines trust and reduces productivity by interrupting workflow and using up valuable time. Someone who is required to churn out unnecessary progress reports has less time to perform their actual work.

2. You need to know every detail

Paying excessive attention to detail is another hallmark of  a micromanager, Ashley says.

It is rarely necessary to triple-check every employee’s work or be cc’d on every email. Managers who are too detail oriented get bogged down in minutiae and unnecessarily add to their workloads.

3. You want things done your way

If you find yourself overruling decisions because your way of doing things is the best way, stop – you’re micromanaging. You might believe you’re offering guidance, but your team probably feels disempowered.

It can be difficult for a domain expert who has transitioned into a leadership position to step back from their previously hands-on role.

“They really know the subject well,” Ashley says. “As they move up the levels of leadership, it can be very hard to let other people become the expert.”

4. You work crazy hours

A manager who refuses to delegate because they need to be across every detail creates a lot of unnecessary extra work for themselves.

“It means that you are spending a lot more time on projects, issues, tasks and activities that you don’t need to get involved with,” Gibbings says.

“A micromanager can often feel highly stressed because they’re working incredibly long hours and they’re not getting the output that they need.”


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