Managerial Madness: Micro-Managers
Do not be too quick to say no.
In 20 years of doing this work I have never had a manager come to me and say, I need help, Im a micro-manager, says Wally Bock, an executive coach. They feel they are only doing their jobs.
Nobody in the history of work has ever awoken, clapped his hands and said: I cant wait until Im at work micro-managing the heck out of this project and my team.
So, if you dont know you are doing it, how can you possibly stop?
Definition time. What exactly is micro-management? It boils down to insufficient delegation (handing off only the easiest tasks) and/or continually checking in on progress.
Thus, when a project manager states, I need you to do X by Friday at 5 p.m., and calls the person to whom the task was assigned several times a day monitoring progress, the person is a classic micro-manager, says Kimberly Mount, an adjunct professor of organizational psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and a leadership development consultant.
The classic micro-manager cannot resist meddling at every step in a project. Good project managers parcel out work, then let team members go off and percolate individually and without interference. Not a micro-manager. These lines can be finely drawn, so understand that what makes micro-management particularly treacherous is it is too much of a good thing, says Stefanie Smith, head of Stratex, a coaching firm.
Chew on this factoid: according to Harry Chambers, author of My Way or the Highway: The Micromanagement Survival Guide , 71% of us indicate we are victims of micromanagement.
Would your team members say they are in that super-majority?
What causes micro-management? Experts point to three drivers:
Micro-management is a symptom of thinking things are out of control, adds consultant Don Maruska, author of How Great Decisions Get Made .
Say that a project manager who doesnt fear possible job loss is delusional bordering on Pollyanna and you may be right, meaning that, in many cases, the building blocks for micro-management have a foundation in reality. But that does not make it a good thing, particularly not when it is exhaustively documented that a micro-manager sucks the enthusiasm out a project team (Who wants to give his/her all when the boss redoes everything anyway?).
Even worse. A classic symptom of the micro-manager is that he cannot get his own work done, says organizational consultant Simma Lieberman. So busy supervising the work of others, the micro-manager frequently finds his own to-do list gets ignored. And that is no way to win job security.
Taking the Cure
It isnt easy to break the cycle of micro-management but it can happen. Step one, says Maruska, is to make a conscious effort to transition from always being the doer into being a manager of others. Focus on getting there and it will gradually come to be.
Step two, and maybe a still harder step, says Louellen Essex, co-author of Manager's Desktop Consultant: Just-in-Time Solutions to the Top People Problems That Keep You Up at Night , is to dialog with team members. Ask them: do they feel micro-managed? What kind of supervision and leadership do they want? Of course, they wont immediately open up with honesty so keep prodding.
Show sincerity: I cannot properly manage this project without your input about what you want from a leader. Little by little, team members will spill about how much (or how little) direction they genuinely want from you. A tricky bit is that some team members want a lot of oversight, some want little or none, so for the manager part of the job is knowing who needs how much hand-holding.
The last step: dont focus on process, focus on outcomes and results. Inveterate micro-managers stay hung up on process, but the managers who succeed know that, at projects end, all the high-level bosses in the organization care about is what was accomplished. Period.
The outcome is what really matters, stresses Essex. Just keep that in mind and, poof, micro-management proclivities just may evaporate.