How to Avoid the Perils of Micromanaging
Anywhere along the path to increased responsibility, you may be tempted to hang on to control, thinking that it’s part of being “in charge.” Actually, letting go of control is the basic skill needed. If you don’t learn to let go, you run the risk of micromanaging. As a micromanager, you direct every action and must verify the accuracy of every decision because you don’t trust that your employees are competent.
Micromanaging is a really good way to demoralize staff. It shows that you don’t trust your staff or that your need for perfection compels you to retain control over everything. Can you say, “Control freak”? To solve the problem, you have to first recognize that you’re micromanaging and then shift your approach to a more strategic style. You do so either by identifying the tendency on your own or by asking staff.
Overcoming your micromanaging tendencies offers many benefits:
- You reduce your stress levels and gain engagement with your staff.
- Delegating lets you see the big picture, which gives you the perspective you need to think strategically.
- You can accomplish more when you work together with your team than you can by doing everything by yourself.
- Realizing that you’re human and need the support of staff to get the job done makes you a more compassionate and better leader.
Letting go of micromanaging
If you’ve confessed that you’re a micromanager, how do you let go? Follow these steps:
- Name, boldly and honestly, what you’re attached to and why.
For example, perhaps you have a hard time letting go because of a fear of failure or a fear you won’t get the result you want.
Control stems from fear, so knowing what you’re afraid of losing and why helps you decide whether it’s a real concern and opens up the space to trust in what comes to you rather than force results.
- Decide whether you’re ready to let go of control.
Keep in mind that there will never be a perfect time. Knowing that the timing is right is an intuitive instinct that fear blocks access to. Ask yourself whether letting go of intervening in team decisions, for example, would give you more freedom. If the answer is yes, then it’s time. Remember, the goal is to recognize that, by opening up to new results, you’ll be able to handle what happens next.
- Accept what happens next and trust all will be well, without your intervention. There is always an empty space between what you’ve always done and what’s next. To avoid reverting back to control, simply be patient with yourself, visualize the better approach, and trust that you’ll be all right. To navigate personally, consider working with a mindfulness coach who can help you stay calm. At work, letting go of micromanaging might mean you give up making decisions team members are better equipped to make. They’ll be expecting you to step in when they hesitate. Don’t bite on that invite! Keep asking them what they’d do and then wait.
Often, when people hear they need to let go, panic results because they think it means letting go of responsibility or quality. But in actuality, you’re simply replacing the need to be in control with trust in yourself, your management capabilities, and others on your staff. At the end of the day, the only one you can control is yourself.
If you don’t want to let go, not because you need to be in control but because your staff isn’t ready to independently assume the necessary responsibilities, then release slowly. Make sure you give inexperienced staff the mentoring and support to bring them up to speed. Also, encourage them to ask questions when they aren’t sure. Doing so helps them grow in their careers.
Taking even more steps to improve your leadership style
As you recover from your experimental stint as a micromanager, you can continue to expand your leadership skills, and the easiest way to do so is to take time to listen to what each person on your team brings — or wants to bring — to the table. By listening deeply to your staff, you’ll be able to discover breakthroughs and unique solutions. Leadership isn’t about having all the right answers; it’s about asking the right questions.
To strengthen your leadership style, ask these questions:
- Do you expect staff to get the job done the way you would do it, or do you simply want it successfully accomplished? The difference is a focus on the process (how it’s accomplished) or the end point (success!). Micromanagers focus on every single aspect of how things get done by others. You want to focus on achieving results, using a process that respects and engages your team.
- What do your staff members see as each other’s strengths and what responsibilities does each want to grow into? The information you glean from this question guides you as you decide how to allocate staff members’ current skills while helping them develop new skills. It also helps staff see where their growth aspirations lie.
Based on the responses to these questions, return decision-making power to the appropriate level and people. When you give decision-making power back, the result is that decision-making has sustainability; that is, the team can perform well past the assumed targets. U.S. naval commanders who develop ship personnel as decision-makers find that they can leave and performance doesn’t plummet, even if the next commander brings a less enlightened approach. In short, the crew can lead itself.
Support the team as team members come up with ways to have fun, work together, and support one another. Doing so shows that you trust your team members to solve problems on their own.