Micromanagement: 7 Signs You’re a Micromanager and What to Do About It

Could you be guilty of micromanagement?

The micromanager has been called the bully of the business world, and micromanagement is responsible for killing motivation, eroding trust, and leading to waste and inefficiency.

Yet the last person to recognize that they are a micromanager is the micromanager themselves.

Could you be one of them and not realize it?

Today we’ll look at seven signs that you might be micromanaging your team, and then seven ways to cure yourself that will save you time, build trust, and improve productivity.

Micromanagement: 7 Signs You are a Micromanager and What to Do About It

What is Micromanagement?

The Collins English Dictionary defines a micromanager as someone who tries to “manage or control very closely, as by making decisions about even the smallest details, often so as to be regarded as acting inefficiently or counterproductively.”

Makes it sound pretty bad, right?  But it gets worse.

The effect of this excessive over-control is that it signals that the leader doesn’t trust his teammates.  As trust erodes, there is a demotivating effect on the whole team.  They become less willing to work hard, innovate, or do anything beyond the minimum required to get by.

That doesn’t sound like the kind of team most people want to lead (or be on).  The problem is that you could be a micromanager and not even realize it.  Here are seven ways to know for sure.

7 Signs That You are a Micromanager

Constant Interruption.  If you have an office door, it should be a revolving one – people are coming and going continuously.  They have a thousand and one questions, and you seem to be the only one on the planet who can provide the answers.

Your productivity stinks.  You are having trouble getting your own tasks done because of constant interruption (see above).  The only time you can get caught up is when no one else is around.

Piles on your desk.  Your in box looks like the Rocky Mountains (see above), but your teammates’ boxes look like the prairies.  And now they are knocking on your door, asking if they can leave early because they are done for the day.  Your grey hair collection grows.

You’re sitting in their chair.  You walk the floor to “check on your people” but before you know it, you are sitting in their chair, doing their work, while they watch.  If you happen to notice body language, their arms are crossed, they are probably leaning on something, and they aren’t smiling.

You re-do their work.  You delegated a task, they turned it in, and now you are “fixing” it so that it’s right.

There are no good ideas.  You invite input from others, but every idea they offer is lame.  A lot of the time, nobody seems to want to say anything at all.

Command override.  As teammates discuss a project, it seems like you have to constantly interrupt to set them straight.  Don’t they know anything?

How to Overcome Micromanagement

If any of these symptoms seem just a little bit familiar, you might be a micromanager, but don’t despair.  Here are seven ideas to help cure you of the habit.

Delegate deliberately.  The place to save yourself time is that moment right before you delegate a task.  Think carefully about what tasks to delegate, and who you should delegate to.  To get clarity, write down the specific outcome you want to see before you assign the task. The better you do this at the beginning, the more likely it is you get the result you need in the end.

Use the 70% rule.  You may be the best at a specific task, but as Jim Schleckser of Inc. says, if someone else can do it at least 70% as well as you, delegate it.  100% of the time you spend not working on a particular task is time you can use for other things.

Delegate: 100% of the time you spend not doing a task is time you can use for other things. #leadership Click To Tweet

Reinforce the vision and values.  If you are constantly doing anything, it should be this.  If your vision is clear and team values are well understood, it will be enough to guide them in most of the decisions they have to make.

Don’t answer questions.  When someone comes to you with a question, don’t give them an answer.  If you do, you are training them to be dependent on you.  Instead, ask them what they think should be done.  And then ask them why they think so.  In the process, you are training them to think for themselves and become more independent.

Extra points if they use the vision and team values to support their answers.

Leader PatienceAsk questions.  And then shut your mouth, take a “patience pill,” and really listen to what they have to say.  When you do respond, start by talking about points of agreement with what they said.

Their first ideas may not be as brillient as yours, but if you give them some space and encouragement, the ones that come next might just be.

Learn to let go.  The people on your team are there to do work, so let them.  Once you have delegated, get out of the way, and focus on the other things you need to do.  Of course you should have periodic updates and feedback loops so you know what’s going on.

Just remember that during those discussions, you want to keep the focus on the outcome that you established, not on “how you would have done it.”

Delegating: Focus on the outcome, not the process. #leadership Click To Tweet

Re-Prioritize. Think about where your efforts could do the most good for the team.  Should you really be changing the font on their report, or would everybody be better off if you were coordinating more resources for the team, fixing a broken system, or being more deliberate about how you delegate (see above)?

When Micromanagement is Good

Of course there are times when very close supervision is a good thing.  Nobody wants to be working with 70% accuracy when they compute the payroll.  Here are a few other cases where you do want to keep close tabs on what’s going on.

New teammate.  Someone new to an important job may need a great deal of initial supervision to train them in the necessary skills.  But try not to do this yourself.

3 Ways to Sabotage Team Culture

A smarter approach is to pair them up with one of your best veterans to show them the ropes.  This is a great way to inculcate your team’s culture, show that you value the veteran’s expertise, and give the newbie someone to turn to that’s not you.

Times of crisis.  When your organization is re-structuring, there’s a serious complaint, time is limited, or risk is high, these are good times to be closely involved.   People look to their leader when serious problems arise; responding to crisis is a very good time to dig into the details.

Unable/Unwilling.  If you have someone on the team who just doesn’t want to be there and you can’t get rid of them, you may have no choice but to watch them like a hawk.  You want to ensure they at least do the minimum, and definitely don’t want them doing something counterproductive.  As an adaptive leader, you may find yourself functioning more as a warden than a coach or teacher.

Micromanagement – The Takeaway

If any of the symptoms of micromanagement look a little familiar, be open to the idea that you just might be a micromanager.  It’s much more common than you think.

And if you’ve ever worked for one, than you know what it can be like.  The good news is that there’s a remedy.

If want to have a high performing team, start with the best people you can get, focus on building a culture of mutual trust and support, be deliberate about how you delegate, and then get out of the way.

When given the opportunity, most people will rise to the challenge and do their best to prove that your confidence in them was well-placed.

Lead on!

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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