If you ask 100 employees if they like to be micromanaged 90 of them will say no, and the remaining 10 will walk away in disgust at you having the gall to ask the question. Micromanagement is so bad it’s almost synonymous with bad-management. If we all know it’s a bad choice, then why do managers do it?
I’ve been able to hire, promote, and observe quite a few managers and leads over my career. Thankfully most of these managers have been exceptional ones, but micromanagement can work its way into the best intentioned managers.
Let’s explore what leads to a manager to falling into micromanagement.
Managers tend to micromanage for four primary reasons:
- Lack of trust with their employees This can stem from any number of reasons. An employee can lose their trust with their manager and the manager can fail to extend the faith and trust in the employee from the beginning. It is important to start from a place of trust. An employee will rise to their level of competence and inspiration.
- Fear of not managing enough Many managers feel like they need to manage their employees. When an employee is working well a manager may feel a pull to step in unnecessarily. This urge should be resisted as it can only work to interfere with an exceptional employee. Your job is to support, direct, and remove roadblocks, not to take attendance and task manage.
- Simply wanting to be involved Some managers just want to be involved in what’s going on. This may be from excitement to be part of a fun project or a fear of a failing one.
- Too few responsibilities An underutilized manager may invent reasons to micro-manage if they have too much time on their hands.
It may seem obvious that employees dislike micromanagement, but understanding why might be more difficult. Often times the employee may feel like the manager doesn’t trust them. This can lead an employee to push back hard in many different ways including malicious compliance or doing the minimum requested. If not addressed early by the manager this can also deeply damage the relationship
Many employees on high performing teams also have some sense of Imposter’s Syndrome, they may look around an excellent team and feel they don’t fit or aren’t living up to expectations. This can be exacerbated by a more involved micromanager.
A good manager is a leader. They set the tone, values, and goals of their team. They set the direction but can’t do everybody’s work. Even though in the past they may have held many of the roles on the team their job is not to do that work, or even tell others precisely how to do it. A good manager will know when to delegate, guide, and step away. A good manager will know when to step in and support without being overbearing.
Often somebody on your team may ask you for an answer, instead of answering the question directly, try to guide the person to the answer, ask them what they think they should do, validate hypothesis, ask questions. If you have an idea of what the “right” answer is try to resist the urge to say it out loud. First of all, you may be wrong and you may be short circuiting a better answer. Second, even if you’re right you’re denying the person the opportunity to learn from the interaction. You should probably answer some questions directly. Don’t muse socratic when somebody asks for directions to the bathroom.
A huge value you can provide your team is to anticipate roadblocks or listen to your team’s frustrations and use your experience and relationships to unblock your team so they can do their best work efficiently.