When I teach leadership skills workshops I have a favorite exercise that asks participants to think of their worst boss ever and write down two or three characteristics of that individual that drove them crazy. Invariably, one of the most common complaints I hear is micromanaging.
No one likes to be micromanaged, even if the individual is new in position. And, micromanaging is not an effective leadership style because it doesn’t respect the abilities and talent of team members. There are several types of micromanagement:
But my least favorite kind of micromanagement is the boss who, even after assigning you the project, does the work for you, often without asking. As a boss, you might think that you are simply helping an employee by relieving some of their workload, however, it is unlikely that your team member will view it with gratitude. Russell Johnson from Michigan State University found that this kind of behavior actually lessens engagement and sociability within teams. The lesson: don’t step in and rescue your team members, even if they might need it.
I see this behavior in both business and volunteer contexts, where a manager is unhappy with either the pace or the quality of the work and does the work him or herself without checking in first with the assigned individual. Many of the leaders that I coach don’t understand the consequences of micromanaging, which is disengagement and a sense of disempowerment on the part of the individual. In fact, if a boss does this often, they may be teaching employees helplessness.
Learned helplessness is proven in a lab setting where animals have been caged and punished for trying to escape. Later, when the door is left open, the animals don’t even attempt to leave their enclosure due to “learned helplessness.” This concept can be transferred to the business setting.
In these situations, team members’ learned helplessness might sound like this in their heads: “If the boss is going to step in and do the assignment himself, then I may as well slack off and just let him do it his way.” Or, “I needn’t try hard to do my best because my work never pleases her. She corrects it for me and finishes the project herself. I’ll just give it a half-hearted attempt.” This mental tape is deadly for productivity, creativity, ownership and engagement within the team.
The opposite of micromanaging is empowering your team members to do their best work. Research shows that 1) people want to know the expectations of the boss, 2) employees want to be given the knowledge and tools to do the assignment, and 3) they want regular but infrequent check-ins from the boss to evaluate progress. Think about the last time you assigned a project or responsibility to an employee, were you crystal clear in explaining your expectations? Clear expectations include details like:
After setting clear goals, did you set up periodic check-in meetings to review progress towards the deadline? And, did you allow some variation in either the process or the final result to account for the differing strengths of your team member, all while upholding quality goals? It is important to remind yourself that a team member may actually come up with better ideas than yours.
If you see an employee struggling even after setting up the assignment properly, what should you do? It’s best to ask the employee if they would like help. It might sound like this: “Susan, it seems like you are putting in a lot of extra hours on that project I gave you. Do you need some help? I’d be glad to discuss it with you and brainstorm some ways to assist if needed.” Doing other people’s jobs is disempowering to them and puts an extra burden on you and your time. Be known as a great boss and let your team run with the ball until they agree to accept help from you.
From the desk of