One of the most important traits in a leader is understanding when you need to get out of the way of your team.
“How is that report going?”
“Did you do that thing I asked you to do?”
“Why haven’t you organised that thing yet?”
Sometimes, you need to monitor people closely to complete the work. However, being a controlling boss can become frustrating for everybody. Being able to step back can also help your team develop leadership skills of their own, as they manage their workload without you micromanaging them.
I know what it’s like. Sometimes you feel like a massive pain to your team, hassling them seemingly every five minutes to see where they are up to. You need to stop being a controlling boss and learn to get out of the way, while also keeping some type of oversight. Not an easy thing to do.
How do you know when you’re a controlling boss?
When you’re a controlling boss, in most cases you’ll be able to spot the signs. It’s important to pay close attention to how your team is behaving.
1. You may be a controlling boss when your team gets frustrated
If you notice your team becoming frustrated when you check in with them, it might be time to get out of the way and let them work.
Frustration can be a natural stress behaviour for someone who is taking on additional responsibility. If you start to seem more like an obstruction than a helper, that’s a problem.
It can be particularly frustrating for teams when leadership oversight comes with additional work, just to report progress. If your team needs to create a status report in addition to actually doing the work, this is probably going to be seen as unhelpful.
How to handle it:
- Set a future milestone to catch up with your team to review progress, and let them go. Sometimes ad-hoc, spur of the moment check-ins can be frustrating because your team don’t expect them. Setting frequent, expected check-in points can alleviate this frustration
- Reduce the reporting deliverables you require from your team. If you need your team to collate a special report to communicate how they are progressing, this will be frustrating. You may need to become more comfortable with lightweight progress updates.
2. You may be a controlling boss when you become a communication bottleneck
You’ve said your team can handle this, but then you’re becoming more involved in the decision making. Your team used to be able to communicate directly with other people, and now you want to be involved in all communication. Sounds like a controlling boss to me.
When you put yourself into communication channels so that you can “be aware” of things, you run the risk of becoming a bottleneck. This is a real problem when you have tasked your team to deliver, because you’re sending mixed messages.
What you are trying to say is “I trust you to do this”. But if you involve yourself in every piece of communication, you are actually sending the opposite message to your team.
How to handle it:
- Ensure that you set up the correct expectations in your team with regard to communication. Initiate a regular communication meeting where you can learn what is happening.
- State the conditions where you’ll require input in decisions. You don’t need to involve yourself in every little decision. Make sure you aren’t present in conversations unless people need you.
Why should I step back? I’m the boss.
You sometimes need to step back and let your team take on responsibility. Letting others have responsibility is a good way to improve other people’s leadership skills and take some of the burden off you at the same time.
If you involve yourself in everything, then your team is heading for frustration. In fact, nobody is going to put in extra effort when they you will double check their work every time. On the contrary, they will rely on you to ensure everything is OK. They will also feel as if you don’t trust them.
When your team feels as if they can’t do any work without your input, they will feel disempowered. They will start to use you as a crutch. On the other hand, if they know they are critical, there is more potential for them to take greater pride in their work.
So you don’t want to be a controlling boss, but you’re afraid your team will stuff it up
This can be a valid concern for a leader. If you step back and then everything collapses in a heap, it’s possible your team weren’t ready. Then you run the risk of being held accountable for a big failure because you weren’t paying close attention.
To stop being a controlling boss, let your team try
The only way you’ll build trust in your team is if you let them try. Start with smaller tasks and gradually increase responsibility until you (and they) get more comfortable.
You can also set up a network of communication with your colleagues so that you can learn what is happening without being a controlling boss.
To stop being a controlling boss, build a communication network
Is your team dealing with an external stakeholder or client? Maybe you can jump on the phone with them to get some feedback on their performance. Do you have colleagues who will know what your team is doing? Contacting them for updates may be another way to keep in touch.
Of course, these methods should be in addition to regularly checking in with your team. Remember, empowering your team to deliver is good, but it’s still up to you to stay aware of what is happening. You can’t step back completely and divulge all responsibility. You’re still technically the boss.
Look for opportunities to help the process, rather than to be a blocker. Get involved in team discussions and contribute as a participant rather than as “the boss”. Keep up to date with progress by trying to contribute rather than asking your team to report to you.
So what do you do if your team does stuff it up? Be sure you do a review with the team so that you can see what went wrong. If you were too detached, introduce some more control and communication mechanisms to better support your team.
Being able to get out of the way of your team can be a great way of letting them take accountability. When you are able to step back and let them work, they’ll learn to lead. You’ll need to be less involved in minor decisions that just take up their time.
Of course, it’s a balancing act. Good, thoughtful leaders know how to straddle the boundary between being a controlling boss and being out of touch.