A few years ago, a group of senior engineers gathered in a conference room to solve a serious manufacturing issue. The engineering manager was present but allowed others to lead the meeting as he listened, encouraged discussion, debated and praised good ideas.
After a couple of hours without a plausible solution, the newest engineer in the company, a twenty-something fresh out of college offered a different idea. It was a surprisingly simple approach, but it worked! Resulting in saving the company millions of dollars in lost production time.
This true client-story could have produced very different results. Imagine the outcome if the manager had dominated the discussion, was overly controlling, cut people off or routinely dismissed ideas whenever he didn’t agree.
The axiom that when people are always agreeing there’s a good chance only one person is doing the thinking, is true in the sense of a micromanager’s effect on people.
My conclusion from conducting over a thousand client-employees’ interviews is that people won’t willingly contribute their best ideas or performance when a boss micromanages. Most people will seek acceptance by suggesting ideas and producing work they know will keep the peace.
When people are doing the same jobs in the same way without improving results, it’s not the people’s fault it’s the leadership. Most micromanagers don’t know they micromanage—but their people do!
Without question, an appropriate level of control is necessary to run an organization. But what is an appropriate level? And when does a manager cross the line and negatively impact an employee’s work? That’s difficult to say because it varies with individuals.
In my experience, there are several good ways to lead the efforts of employees without meddling.
- Show humility. Coming across like ‘my ideas are the best,’ or, ‘I can do that better myself’ kills trust. Employees respond positively when you show them that you believe in their abilities and truly want the best ideas, regardless where they come from. Humility is crucial to leading a highly engaged team.
- Delegate. When you like doing certain tasks yourself it can be difficult to delegate. Still yet, assigning tasks to people who can benefit from a learning opportunity is an effective way to show your support and create deeper trust on your team.
- Identify what’s driving ‘your’ micromanaging behavior. A new supervisor may over-manage because they aren’t sure what they’re doing. A seasoned manager may over-manage because they like control. Identifying why you are micromanaging and making the necessary adjustments is a wise step in balancing control and autonomy.
- Stop hovering. The owner of a small business complained to me that his managers weren’t taking enough initiative. However, he constantly hovers over projects, second-guesses his manager’s decisions, and reluctantly releases responsibility.
It makes no sense to have good people and then micromanage the life right out of them.
- Loosen your grip. Micromanagers hold on too tight. They have an obscured truth about their control on people’s work and improving performance. Placing greater trust in people to achieve crucial results independently will help you avoid meddling in the daily work issues.
- Manage the big picture. It’s okay to be copied on reports or receive recaps of projects, and when goals are not being reached to look into things and help get projects back on course. But just as quickly, return to managing the bigger issues and allow your people to finish projects freely.
Managers that hover over their employees mistakenly assume they get optimal effort, but they don’t. Smart managers allow for greater autonomy while maintaining sufficient oversight and experience greater results.