How to Not Be a Micromanager

When I was younger, I had a manager, who in the five minutes before a project was due, would stand over my shoulder and comment on my work. It was the worst kind of micromanagement. It was impossible to do my best work with someone quite literally breathing down my neck. But micromanagement isn’t always as insidious. At its core, it is simply the inability to let go of control. Whether that means not delegating work, checking in far too frequently, over-emphasis on the minutia, or being the sole decision maker, micromanaging is not only demoralizing, but unproductive. No matter how well meaning you are, you’ve got to let go. Here are a few tips:

Step 1: Assess yourself – Do you have trouble delegating work even when you should? Do you feel the need to be involved with each step of execution? Do you ask your employees to check with you before making decisions? Do you feel like you only trust the quality of work you do yourself? Do you find yourself making changes constantly, never satisfied with the finished product? If yes, it’s time for step two.

Step 2: Understand yourself – We all have some trouble loosening the reins, but micromanagers struggle to do so more than others. Often micromanaging is the result of insecurity, perfectionism, and pressure. “They are worried that they will be criticized if they’re not doing it perfectly. And anybody that reports to them is an extension of themselves,” said social worker Carvel Taylor of micromanagers.

Step 3: Understand the impact – It’s true, giving up your work may mean that it doesn’t meet your normal standards, but by not delegating, you are holding your employees back. You are preventing them from learning and yes, making mistakes, but ultimately growing and becoming better employees. You are hindering their ability to be creative and demonstrate their unique capabilities. You aren’t helping yourself by doing everything, and you certainly aren’t helping your employees.

Step 4: Refocus your energy and efforts – Instead of focusing on controlling, focus on enabling. A manager’s role is to equip their employees to succeed, or as Lao Tzu put it, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when the work is done, they will say: we did it ourselves.” If your employees aren’t ready to take on the work, you haven’t yet done your job as a manager. Take the time and energy that you would have spent micromanaging and doing it all yourself, and put it into teaching them how. Help them to improve and understand the expectations. Encourage them to ask questions and check in instead of you always doing so. Give them meaningful, not daily feedback. When you feel like you can take a day off and everything will continue just as well without you, then you know you’ve done your job.

Step 5: Repeat step 1 through 4 – Going from micromanagement to a more hands off approach isn’t easy. Don’t give up if you feel like you are reverting to your old ways. In the same thread, don’t think one week of change is enough. Constantly reassess yourself and your employees to determine where you are in comparison to where you should be.

Micromanagement can be debilitating for employees who will feel stifled under suffocating leadership, but it can also be debilitating to the manager to constantly carry the burden of responsibility. So let go a bit and share the responsibility, share leadership, and then share the success.

What I’m reading now: Coaching & managing

But the most effective managers who are also effective coaches learn to be selective about giving direction. Rather than use their conversations as an opportunity to exert a strong influence, make recommendations, and provide unambiguous direction, they take a step back, and try to draw out the views of their talented, experienced staff.

Friday Fast Tip: No Surprises

When possible, avoid surprises. Challenges and issues are going to come up, but if you are prepared for them, you can overcome them. It is when you are surprised that things get really difficult. Do your research, know the potential risks and consequences, and be transparent about what lies ahead, even if it’s not so pretty. Don’t be afraid to admit there will be issues, instead be prepared to deal with them.

What I’m reading now: The Power of Bringing People Together

Out of the many ways that managers get things done, one of the most underused is what I call “convening authority”: the ability to bring people together to share information, build alignment, or solve problems.