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Let’s Fire All The Micromanagers

Joost Minnaar
Written by Joost Minnaar December 17, 2022

Micromanagers are by far the least popular managers. Nobody wants to report to one. Nobody wants to be one. The funny thing about micromanagers is the fact that almost no one considers themselves one. So, how do you know you are one, and, more importantly, how do you let go of micromanagement?

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Are you a micromanager?

So, are you one? 99% of the managers reading this will probably say no. Because unless someone in your team has called you out on it recently, most micromanagers have no clue they are one. And that’s assuming anyone on your team is even willing to say anything about it.

However, that doesn't mean you are not one. Especially if team members are hesitant to bring it up.

Perhaps even worse, your team members may not even realize you are one. After all, if they’re not used to having any autonomy in their work, they may not recognize the lack of it. Micromanagement is their status quo. What a shitty place to be.

So, let's check the signs below. If you can check off some of the items on the list below, well, you may need to do some serious introspection.

  • You don’t trust your team (or a particular team member) to reach their goals
  • You get itchy to check progress and results
  • You think it saves time if you “just do it yourself”
  • You focus on (dictating) the “how” instead of the “what” and “why”
  • You do not prioritize more strategic tasks (where you can add actual value)
  • You are not clear about your expectations when you delegate tasks
  • You are too detail orientated, especially when details compete with accomplishments
  • You do not have an open mind for different or alternative approaches to reach goals
  • You have a constant fear of losing control
  • You, and quite possibly some other team members, feel close to being burned-out

Uh oh. Do any of these apply to you?

Managing versus micromanaging

The line between managing and micromanaging is certainly a fine one, and it often has to do with varying levels of trust. The reason is usually clear: a micromanager does not trust that their team can do the work without (close) supervision.

Sure, most people may need guidance, especially when they’re new to a company or position or when new priorities are set for their team. But micromanagers, with their controlling personalities, have a tendency to stifle rather than nurture creative people.

That doesn't make sense. After all, if you put a plant in a tight pot, it will never flower. Or something like that.

Similarly, micromanagers often don’t give people the space needed to develop, be autonomous, or take their work to the next level. In the end, that leaves micromanagers with a lot of unused talent in their teams—and a lot of extra work on their own plate.

All because they refuse to trust people to do the jobs they were hired to do.

What is so bad about micromanagement?

Nobody likes to be micromanaged We all know this. Think about the plant in the tight pot: it thrives when it’s moved to a bigger place with more light.

The same is true for people. If you don’t believe in the qualities of your teams, they will never thrive and make use of their full potential.

This is not only bad for the people but also for business. Unused potential leads to dead ends in innovation and motivation. It will stall growth in the team, the department they are part of, and eventually, the whole organization.

Ironically enough, underperformance is what micromanagers fear the most. That is why they are often micromanagers in the first place. They don't want to underperform or fail, so they think they need to hover over everyone to ensure it doesn't happen.

But it leads to nothing; it is entirely unconstructive.

So stop it!

Micromanagers are by far the least popular managers. Nobody wants to report to one. Nobody wants to be one. The funny thing about micromanagers is the fact that almost no one considers themselves one.
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How can you let go of being a micromanager?

Okay, about the stopping part. How can you do so?

Good news: there are many ways to leave your micromanaging days far behind you. Here are a few things you can try:

Get rid of middle management

Kill middle management. Not actually kill the managers, obviously. But certainly the positions themselves.

Okay. Ask yourself the following questions:

Do all middle managers really add value to the organization?

What would happen if teams had more autonomy?

What would that look like?

What would happen if middle management roles were more dynamic and divided up into different smaller roles? What would that look like?

Or, even more radically, what would happen if teams could choose their own leaders? Would you still be chosen to lead your own team?

Hmm.

Improve your communication

Work on your communication. Your micromanagement could very well be caused by bad experiences in the past. That's fair, to an extent. You might have had to solve issues because your team performances were below par, your team members under-delivered, or deadlines were not met.

Any of these could have resulted in losing confidence in your team and its members. You simply lost trust in others. Still, that doesn't mean that it is your team's fault—it might also be your own fault.

So, it is time to start rebuilding that trust. But take note: rebuilding trust is a long game. As an old Dutch saying goes, "Trust comes on foot, but goes by horseback."

As a micromanager, you must take the first step in rebuilding trust. You can do this by giving your team more autonomy in the next project they need to deliver. Get off their backs. Step away.

But, this time, make sure to be super clear in your communication about what you are expecting from them in return for their renewed levels of autonomy.

Let your team members know things such as:

  • What is expected of them in terms of the end result
  • When the final deadlines are
  • When you expect periodic updates from them
  • What you expect to hear in the periodic updates

Specifically, don’t communicate HOW you think the end result should be reached.

Sure, you might ask what their plans are. However, and this is extremely important, if you don’t like their answers, ask more questions to understand their strategy better. In all cases, do not directly override them with your own plans.

You know what? You may be surprised. Your team members might actually have better ideas than you have yourself. Just make sure there is no room for miscommunication and see to it that the project objectives are crystal clear.

In fact, radical transparency might come in quite handy here. (It would certainly make your need to constantly ask for updates obsolete.)

Start listening

This is such a basic thing to say, but an important part of communication is listening.

Here’s the truth: managers who do not listen will eventually be surrounded by team members with nothing to say.

At first, it may be daunting for your team members to call you out as a micromanager, so you may have to read between the lines.

If team members seem less eager to learn from you over time, the writing is on the wall. Exit interviews are suited for this as well. It is completely human to go on the defensive, especially since micromanager is not exactly a term of endearment.

However, try to listen and use it as ammo for your own reflection.

Ask for feedback

Another technique you can start tomorrow is directly asking for feedback from your team. Take the simple 'Stop, Start, Continue' format. It is an exercise that lasts only a few minutes.

This simply means you ask your team members what you should stop, start, and continue doing. It is about asking for their suggestions on how you can effectively lead them in the future.

Just listen. But wait… do you not hear anything useful? Well, then maybe you should consider letting your team give you feedback anonymously. It may make things a little rough at first, but maybe that’s what it will take for you to actually hear (and consider) the truth.

If you do this right, this exercise will show vulnerability and should eventually open the door to constructive feedback. Make sure that all team members try to stay positive by discussing the future, not the past.

Let’s Fire All The Micromanagers
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Micromanagement, a thing of the past(?)

Seriously. Give the above a try. If we all did it, maybe the word micromanager would eventually die out and be removed from our dictionaries altogether.

Because at the end of the day, micromanagement is not constructive. It doesn’t belong in today's working landscape. It fucking sucks, and everyone hates it.

So, let’s kill it.

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Written by Joost Minnaar
Joost Minnaar
Co-founder Corporate Rebels. My daily focus is on research, writing, and anything else related to making work more fun.
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