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Breaking the Micromanagement curse - Admit guilt and learn to let go

Posted: 01 October 2015

Micromanagers have long been the subject of much frustration and criticism. As much as we can side and sympathise with tortured employees, we can also recognise that breaking the micromanagement cycle can be tough. The first step is admitting your addiction/problem and vowing to make major management changes. To all you MMs out there - this is a safe place where help will be offered.

There really is nothing more damaging to morale, productivity and workplace relationships than micromanagement. It’s a curse that affects both employees and leaders alike. Chances are you already know if you’re a MM menace but if you’re still on the fence, here’s a few telling signs to watch out for. The solution to this energy-sapping epidemic is relatively simple so get honest and face that demon head on.

Am I a micromanager? - The signs & solutions.

When does thorough leadership turn into micromanagement? Well, there’s a good few signs but in a nutshell it’s around the time that your team cannot have independent ideas and the freedom to find their own way through a task or situation. The good news is that micromanagement can be easy to spot and even easier to remedy. Here’s how.

Do you wholeheartedly delegate?

As a manager, it’s your job to delegate but do you really do it? If you half-delegate by saving ‘important’ aspects for yourself to do, you’re not delegating. If you dish out tasks and then constantly survey and hound your team, you’re not really delegating. It’s a common micromanager trait to hold back and never really let go of a project. Why? Well, it’s mostly down to the fact that you feel you can do the best job yourself and that you don’t trust your team. This is a dangerous situation to be in for so many reasons.

The best way to overcome this ‘delegation in disguise’ is to tune into your behaviour. Imagine how annoying it would be to have someone ask you to do something and then critique and demotivate you? If you’re team don’t see you as a solid delegator, it’s hard for them to see you as a sound leader. Think of that next time you hold back.

Can you communicate your expectations?

Clear communication is tricky for micromanagers. They don’t have clear expectations for their team as they operate on a few different trust levels. You might have a great plan for a project but you damage delivery and performance by not properly communicating it to your staff.

Many managers expect their team to adopt their approach and way of thinking to a project - this is a key micromanagement sign to look for.

Always be sure to check in with yourself and your role as a manager. What did you actually ask your team to do? Did they know what was really expected of them or did you colour in the rest in your mind?

The best way to beat micromanagement is to learn the basics again. Learn how to prioritise properly, perfect the art of establishing expectations and call on your peers and beyond to assess your management style.

Is collaboration actually important to you?

Micromanaging a team is exhausting. Many of the cursed managers out there spend so much time assessing every single team member that they kill collaboration in the workplace. Why would your team want to work with each other when all they hear is “You can’t do this that way”. Collaboration is about meshing together unique skills and ideas - a micromanager’s worst nightmare. By restricting the amount and ways that your team can work together, you’re putting immense pressure on them as individuals and on the success of your project.

Embrace the idea of cooperative management. Instead of getting detailed about individual performances, apply your eye for detail to finding new ways and systems that can unite your team’s flair for collaboration. You can still manage a team from the sidelines so make it your mission to match up your team’s skills and talents as opposed to critiquing their work and effort.

Are you hung up on accountability & have an obsession with status?

This is the biggie. If you’re super stalker-ish and obsessive about how your team spend their day, you’re in trouble. A team can be accountable without being ridiculed. Timelines change and projects evolve at a speedy rate so it’s totally counter productive to get hung up on status.

Learn to set big picture expectations and deliverables and create a culture where agility is valued. No employee wants to work in fear or under immense stress so instead of checking in or demanding to be CC’ed into everything, have an open door policy where your team can approach you for help reaching their deadlines. Help them don’t hinder them.

How is your own workflow and performance?

If you’re late with your own work, you’re spending too much time worrying about everyone else’s. It’s that simple.

Are you more hung up on the How than the What?

MMs can’t help it, they are obsessed with dictating how something should be done. And it’s this that kills expression and trust in the workplace. It’s such a waste to have a wealth of creativity and inspiration to hand only to restrict its expression. You didn’t hire an army of robots so don’t expect your team to stick around when you treat them like such.

Open up the floor and invite new ideas in. This will be hard to do at first but try it on a small scale first. Why not get to know your team again? Spend time with them and learn about what they love, hate and can bring to the table. When you see them as a people with real assets to offer you’re less likely to treat them as mindless workers.

Do you live in fear of constant failure?

This is what it boils down to. Most MMs are worried about messing up and letting the side down. But that’s what you’re doing by micromanaging in the first place!

Know, really know, that it’s going to be fine. Assess what possible issues could arise and have a plan for that possibility but don’t get hung up on what’s in the future, focus on the now. Ditch the constant reports and updates, they just place more emphasis on status. Instead talk to your team and be mindful of the flow of progress.

There’s nothing wrong with being thorough but the second you lose trust in your team you’re on a slippery slope to disaster, stress and alienation. Break your management style cycle by calling on those around you, mentors, anyone who can see what’s going on before it’s too late.

Do you like this stuff? Then join over 21,000 other awesome people who get tips on improving their employer brand, recruitment, marketing and the odd spot of career advice delivered directly to their inbox from me! @markbevans