How Do I Avoid Being A Micromanager?

You need to make sure things get accomplished but you don't want to be the boss that everyone hates—the dreaded micromanager. Leadership coach Lolly Daskal and Psychologist Art Markman offer their advice in how to balance this tricky situation.

The micromanager might be one of the most common "bad boss" stereotypes, but it's a tricky situation when you are on the other side.

This week's reader question comes from a newly minted supervisor, unsure of how to manage her entry-level employees without becoming a micromanager.

For advice on how to deal with this tricky situation we turned to leadership coach Lolly Daskal and psychologist Art Markman:

This is my first time in a leadership position where I am responsible for managing several employees. All of my direct reports are all in the early stages of their careers. I want to help mentor their professional development and make their positions rewarding but I also need a lot of work from them with a quick turnaround. How do I strike the balance between giving them a sense of autonomy and making sure I get what I need from them. I don't want to be a micromanager but I feel like things won't get done unless I check in on them frequently.

Thanks for your help,
Erin, Brooklyn, NY.


Erin,

In a brief note, you have hit on the three most difficult aspects of leadership:

  1. You have to ensure that your team is productive.
  2. You want to keep the members of your team motivated to work.
  3. You also need to invest in their continued professional development.

Of course, these elements are interrelated. Taking time to mentor someone and to give them responsibility to make some decisions can slow a task down, which can hamper productivity in the short-run. However, mentoring is a crucial aspect of people’s sense that their organization is a neighborhood.

When people feel like they are part of a neighborhood, they are more motivated to go above-and-beyond for the company. And, of course, the more skills your team members develop, the more responsibility they can take on in the long-run, which also makes them more productive.

Mentoring is a trade-off

When cast in this light, the question of mentoring is a tradeoff between short-term and long-term benefits. It is almost always possible to get more accomplished in the short term by delegating tasks to the members of your team.

But, the long-term health of the enterprise suffers when you focus exclusively on the short term. Individuals who do not feel like their careers are being nurtured are more prone to leave the organization than those who feel like they are growing in the job. There is a significant cost when people leave.

So, how should you resolve this tradeoff?

The answer lies in a subtle difference between the way you described your situation and the way that I have talked about it. In your letter, you describe your role as managing several employees and focus on helping your direct reports to grow. In my answer, I have focused on thinking about your team and creating a neighborhood.

Keep up Frequent Communication

To create a neighborhood, you have to open the lines of communication. Engage with your team members. Let them know what you are doing and keep them up-to-date on why things are happening as they are in the organization. Listen to their concerns and work to address them.

When the group feels like it is part of a neighborhood, then in those moments when you need everyone to pull together to meet a deadline, you can ask everyone to follow your lead and expect they will put in their full effort. The frequent communication with team members gives you an opportunity to provide regular mentorship to less experienced members of the group.

Another advantage of this frequent communication is that you can also monitor the progress of the members of your team. The team will not feel micromanaged if your evaluations and corrections of their work are just one small part of the interactions they have with you.

Creating this sense of community can often be difficult when you take your first leadership role. There is a temptation to exert your authority in order to make it clear that you are at the head of the group.

It is important to remember that your position within the organization gives you all of the authority you need. From there, lead by creating a team and demonstrating to your group that you will follow through on the promises you make.


First of all Erin, congratulations on your new leadership position.

If there’s a central truth to what I know about leadership, it’s this: Before you can lead others, you must find out more about yourself. And that element is where the answer to your question begins.

I promise we’ll get to some points that apply directly to your situation, but let’s start by backing up and thinking about the big picture. Here's what you need to ask yourself before you can tackle your issues with your team.

What Are Your Values As A Leader?

Spend some time on self-reflection and make sure you have a clear grasp of who you are and what you stand for. What are your values? What is your leadership story? At the end of this process you’re well-prepared to communicate to your employees who you are and what is important to you. Make sure your values are clear and solid.

Articulate your vision and mission.

The ability to visualize and articulate the future of an organization has always been a vital component of successful leadership. Create, define, and share your vision and mission.

Have a strategy.

Strategy is critical to the development and expansion of your employees as it aligns the mission and vision with operations. When your strategy is clear, it allows your employees to measure their activities with the goals in place.

Once you know what your vision and mission are and you have a strategy, it's time to execute.

Learn the right way to delegate responsibility.

Find out and focus on the strengths of each employee, and keep those strengths in mind as you delegate. Give them just a bit more than what you know they're capable of, so that they have a challenge to strive for—your faith in their ability will help inspire them to stretch.

Bring clarity to communication.

Work on sharpening your communication skills. Being able to clearly and succinctly describe what you want done is extremely important. Be very clear and establish a definite understanding of your expectation for the timeline and desired result. By clearly stating what you want and establishing it you make it easier for others to perform well. Be open to questions and look for opportunities to teach and support your team.

Remember empowerment goes a long way.

Empowering others gives them the confidence to do their best, to learn and grow. Make sure that the language you use with your employees is empowering, compassionate, and respectful.

Give people the resources they need.
You cannot expect others to deliver if they don’t have the tools they need.

Be accessible.
Make yourself available to hear ideas, suggestions, and questions. Having an open-door policy and being accessible is necessary for measurable results.

Foster a sense of community.
People work best when they know they’re not on their own—that questions can be answered and problems can be solved. Collaboration and support create a sense of community, and working together everyone achieves more.

Create a climate of success.
Let everyone know you are invested in their success. Be the kind of leader who rewards, recognizes, and appreciates effort and hard work. Give credit where it is due. Look for ways that every word and action can elevate your employees and point them toward success.

Don’t forget, you need support too.

While you are encouraging, engaging, and empowering others, you will need support all along the way. Seek out a coach or mentor to help you be the best leader you can be.

Good luck in your new role! Let us know how it goes.


If you have a dilemma you’d like our panel of experts to answer, send your questions to AskFC@fastcompany.com or tweet us a question using #AskFC.

[Image: Flickr user DaMongMan]

Add New Comment

3 Comments

  • How employees are managed is critical in any business. Talk to those who are disengaged and they will frequently describe a poor, controlling manager. This article contains some good tips for managers who wish to make a start on changing their style. However, for me there is an element that is missing. Involving your team in the process. Ask your team the same questions that you ask yourself. You might be very surprised by the responses you receive. Having an open door policy is great, but don't wait for your team to come to you - go out and ask them what they think, and then act on the feedback you receive.

  • Silver Creek Press

    Good responses on an important topic. When someone micro-manages (at work or at home!) we are usually responding to OUR needs not the needs of the other person. We need the job to be done well (so we over-supervise the person doing it), we need it done quickly (so we give to many directions to "speed things up") or we want the person to be safe doing it (so we look over their shoulder). When we park our needs (agree that we need to be aware of them however) and respond to the needs of others (to learn, to be seen as competent, to succeed, to be validated) then our strategies shift and we micro-manage less. There are a couple of good books ("Supervisor's Big Book of Answers" and "From Hiring to Firing") at www.silvercreekpress.ca that shed some additional light on these topics.

  • Marilyn Grisham

    I agree that feeling a part of a team or "neighborhood" gives people a sense of belonging and community, making it easier to feel a "part of" and accomplished. My husband would be so much happier at work if they would just simply acknowledge his efforts and show him appreciation once in awhile. Only receiving a thanks from your boss at your annual review because it is required isn't enough for most people. A genuine pat on the back goes just because you appreciate your employees goes a long way for most. Thanks Dr. Markman, always love to read your work!