There are basically two kinds of micromanagers: Those who know they micromanage, and those who micromanage but don’t know it. This post is intended to help leaders spot the signs of micromanagement and provide strategies to lead more effectively.
How to know if you’re a micromanager
It’s unlikely your employees are going to tell you you’re micromanaging. They’ll leave your department, or they’ll complain. They may even tell your boss, but you’ll be in the dark. You’ll think you’re just “checking in,” but they’ll think you don’t trust them. When you think you’re helping by jumping in, they’ll see it as intruding. You’ll never know for sure if you’re a “micromanager” unless your employees do an anonymous survey, or unless you do an honest assessment of your leadership behaviors such as:
- Excessive need to “check in”
- Constantly changing directions
- Controlling the process that needs to be controlled by others
- Over explaining versus listening
- Needing to approve every decision
- Finishing tasks assigned to others
I have a theory: I believe that total hands-off leadership and micromanagement are both rooted in the fear of conflict, and a deep desire to avoid difficult conversations at every level of the organization. Micromanaging others, in the mind of the leader, is a way to ensure success rather than taking responsibility for an undesirable outcome or initiating a difficult conversation about performance. Here are some steps leaders can take to get on the same page with their employees to overcome the behavior of micromanaging, and some tips for employees who experience micromanagement.
1. Create written agreements
Draft a written plan. When I work with a client, whether it’s a speaking engagement or a consulting project, we co-create an agreement. The agreement is a plan in writing about responsibilities, deadlines, resources needed, dates for execution and so on. It provides focus and prevents guesswork, rework, additional approvals or other time delays.
The agreement outlines the decisions made in advance and is available to all relevant team members. Here’s a checklist to consider for writing your agreement:
- The name of the project
- Resources needed
- Check in dates
- Team members involved
- Decision making process
- Other necessary information
If you find you’re being labeled a micromanager, see if creating a documented agreement that you can refer back to helps If you feel micromanaged, ask your leader if you can present draft agreement for the purpose of planning and keeping everyone on the same page. Written agreements prevent the back and forth, scope creep and disappointments that happen when there’s a lack of clarity or a lack of trust.
2. Schedule check-in dates
Before the project begins, mark your calendar selecting the appropriate number of check-ins. Create suggested benchmarks on certain dates. Getting your check-in dates on the calendar in advance prevents the “are we there yet” conversations that make your employee feel they aren’t being trusted. In addition, designated check-in dates serve as a reminder to use this time for communicating about unexpected obstacles and needed tweaks. (If you’re the employee, suggest designated check in dates with your executive, and make the case that you want to build trust and prevent blindsides.) This should give your leader a sense of security instead of wondering what you’ve been up to.
3. Create systems of accountability
It’s leader’s responsibility to get results. This means that sometimes you have to initiate tough conversations about performance, or behavior. Don’t confuse micromanagement with accountability. Don’t let the fear of being called a micromanager keep you from having difficult conversations about deadlines, performance, budget or behavior. Be aware that some employees use the term “micromanaging” to avoid accountability, but there’s a wide gap between having a light hands-on leadership style and micromanaging. Let your employee know from the start of the project that you’ll offer feedback during your regular check in dates, as well as times when you notice discrepancies. Document coaching conversations and set follow-up dates to ensure progress is being made.
4. No blindsides
Stop holding back until it’s “time for yearly performance reviews.” Yes, you will risk being called a micromanager, but you owe it to your employees to stop blindsiding them by waiting until performance reviews. An easy way to check in when you sense trouble is to say, “I observed (fill in the blank.) Walk me through what’s happening. My concern is…” Then once you hear what’s happening, you’ll know if there’s anything to be concerned about. If you’re the employee, don’t blindside your executive for fear of looking incompetent. If you’re over budget or under-resourced your leader will l appreciate knowing in advance to make the necessary changes. Leaders are less likely to micromanage when they trust that they’ll always be informed.
Open communication is important upward, downward and across the organization. If you’re a leader, examine behaviors to see if you’re micromanaging. If you’re employee, prove yourself to be trustworthy and seek feedback, so that your boss can offer support instead of micromanagement.
Marlene Chism is a consultant, executive educator and the author of From Conflict to Courage: How to Stop Avoiding and Start Leading (Berrett-Koehler 2022). She is a recognized expert on the LinkedIn Global Learning platform. Connect with Chism via LinkedIn, or at MarleneChism.com
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.