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Micromanaging Boss - Main

Micromanagement is a common challenge faced in many workplaces. On social media, I often see posts shouting “stop micromanaging your team”.

The reality is that if micromanagement was that simple to stop, it wouldn’t be happening at all. It’s the equivalent of telling someone to “stop worrying” or “stop eating junk food”.

These statements are not helpful, because there are problems beneath the surface that are causing the micromanaging behaviour. Therefore, it’s much more complicated than just telling someone to stop.

You might be wondering why I’m writing this post. After all, I generally don’t write posts targeted at “bad” leaders, because they aren’t the ones who actually want to make a change.

But here’s the thing. Micromanagement isn’t about being a bad leader. Even good leaders can be tempted to micromanage from time to time.

So in this post, I’m going to take a look at some of the potential causes behind being a micromanaging boss, the problems that come with it, and then some steps to take to try to fix the problem.

What’s Behind the Micromanaging Behaviour?

First, let’s take a look at the potential causes of micromanaging behaviour.

If you’ve read my previous articles or listened to my podcast, you will know that I like the Iceberg Model of Human Behaviour.

This model says that there are things above the waterline that we can easily observe about people. For example, their appearance, what they do, and what body language they show.

But this is only a small part of the big picture. Beneath the waterline, there are many more factors at play, such as emotions, beliefs, motivations, culture, health, stress and fears (just to name a few).

The Iceberg Sketch

With this in mind, we can start to see that micromanaging behaviour is what we can observe, but there is more going on beneath the surface that is actually driving the behaviour.

Yes, what I’m saying is *gasp* that the micromanaging boss is not necessarily an evil, malicious, nasty person.

Some of the Potential Causes of Micromanaging Behaviour

I’ve been tempted to micromanage sometimes, and I’ve also worked with coaching clients that have struggled with the same temptation.

Here are some of the common causes I have found that may drive the micromanaging behaviour:

  • Fear: If a leader is scared of something going wrong, they’ll be tempted to take control, rather than give people space.
  • Ambition: An extremely ambitious leader can feel greater pressure to “succeed”, which can give rise to greater fears about failure. The solution for them is sometimes to micromanage their team.
  • Pressure: When a leader is feeling pressure from an important client or stakeholder, they can be tempted to micromanage, to make sure they get the outcome they need.
  • Insecurity: Sometimes a leader simply feels insecure about their capability. The response to this can sometimes be to “show people who is the boss around here” by exerting tight control over their team.
  • Discomfort with higher-level thinking: Sometimes leaders are uncomfortable thinking or operating at a higher level, doing things such as strategic planning or thinking. The result? They consume themselves in the technical detail, so they don’t have time to do anything else!
  • Past experience: We all learn from our role models, and what if your role model was a micromanager? You may feel like that is the way that leadership works.

As you can see, these are just a few potential causes.

None of them are because the leader is “broken” or a “psychopath”. While these leaders do exist, I believe that the common causes above are more likely to be at play.

So if you are a micromanaging boss, or feel tempted to take a micromanagement approach from time to time, don’t worry.

You’re not broken. You’re human.

But having said that, micromanagement is not a good thing to be doing, so it’s time to make a change!

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #123: Common Leadership Fears and How to Challenge Them.

The Problems With Being a Micromanaging Boss

OK, we’ve looked at some the causes. Now, let’s look at some of the common problems with being a micromanaging boss.

1. A Micromanaging Boss Reduces Autonomy

Puppet being controlled

Giving people autonomy is a great way to motivate people. When your team feels that they have control over the work that they do and how they do it, they feel that you trust them.

Micromanagement stops autonomy, because a micromanaging boss will closely monitor the actions of their team, to the point where people have no control over their own work. They simply follow instructions that you give to them.

When somebody has no autonomy, they start to feel undervalued because their talents and abilities aren’t being used effectively.

They aren’t able to make decisions for themselves, so they aren’t bringing anything of themselves to the role. In this situation, people will quickly lose motivation.

Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #232: Trying to Give Your Team More Autonomy? Watch These Traps.

2. A Micromanaging Boss Has Less Free Time

Have you ever micromanaged anybody? I have actually.

It is definitely not my preferred style of leading people, but on a few rare occasions, I had a lack of trust in certain team members. I felt that I needed to make sure they didn’t break anything.

Even though you are stopping somebody from going off course, you are actually spending a lot of time in the process.

3. A Micromanaging Boss Damages Team Trust

Sometimes our micromanaging behaviour is focused on certain people who we don’t trust to do the job well.

But this might mean you are spending all your effort trying to manage a single person and spending no time with the people who you do trust. Isn’t this the opposite of the way it should be?

In this situation, what you really have is a performance issue that needs to be addressed. Micromanagement won’t fix the issue, it will simply control it for a little while. Eventually, when you don’t have the time to micromanage, there will be another problem.

Building Trust - Main

In other words, micromanagement is not a sustainable approach when you are leading people.

You may think you are reducing your risk by micromanaging someone, but actually you are increasing your risk by focusing too much on a single person and not being available to support the rest of your team.

4. A Micromanaging Boss Needs to Know All the Answers

When you’re micromanaging, you’re telling people what to do all the time. You’re paying close attention, checking and rechecking the work that’s being done.

One problem with this approach is that you need to know all the answers… otherwise you can’t check the work properly!

This sounds like a big risk to me. If you need to know everything, you’re not using the skills of your team, and you’re also having to make sure you are up to date with all the latest trends and techniques.

Or, if you’re not up to date, you could be stuck doing things “the way we’ve always done them”, which is not great either, is it?

Learn More: Can’t Trust Your Team? Why it Really Matters.

Learn More: Top 5 Time Management Tips for Leaders.

How to Reduce Your Micromanagement Tendencies

Being able to stop micromanaging your team is difficult, because you’ve probably built up a habit by now.

Part of the challenge is learning to let go, so you can be a more effective leader.

1. Stop Being a Micromanaging Boss By Finding the Reason For Your Behaviour

Root cause - micromanagementOne of the first things you should ask yourself is:

What specifically is it that makes me feel like I need to micromanage my team?

The cause is often that you don’t trust members of your team. After all, if you trusted them, why would you need to keep track of everything?

Where is the trust issue coming from? Is it because someone made a mistake that had bad consequences? Is it because a piece of work was submitted that had lots of errors?

When you’ve pinpointed the event or events that started the micromanagement, you can go deeper and find the root cause.

Why did this occur? Do you have the wrong people in your team for the work you do? The wrong skills or experience, perhaps? Does your team need some training so they understand how to do their work better? Or do you need to reduce your standards slightly?

Digging deeper will hopefully help you find something that you can solve. An approach that can help you do this is the “5 Whys” technique, which you can read about at the link below.

Without understanding the root cause, it will be very difficult to be able to take specific actions to help the situation.

Learn More: The 5 Whys root cause analysis technique.

2. Record the Times When You Feel the Most Tempted to Micromanage

Gratitude JournalSometimes, micromanagement is situational.

It could be that you are only focusing on a certain individual, or your temptation only arises in a specific situation.

One thing I suggest for some of my coaching clients is to start recording when they feel the temptation to micromanage.

This might be simply jotting it down in a notebook, or taking a note on their phone or laptop.

Over time, you’ll be able to see the situations when you slip into the micromanaging boss habit, which will raise your awareness of your own behaviour.

Once you’re aware, you have the best chance of showing restraint!

Learn More:  Why Exercising Restraint Is Important For Good Leadership.

3. Stop Micromanaging By Letting People Fail

Perhaps you started micromanaging because your team member is performing badly. On the one hand, you have prevented issues occurring by watching their work more closely.

On the other hand, you are now spending all your time on the problem, instead of focusing your efforts elsewhere.

If you don’t solve it, this situation can go on forever. You aren’t letting the poor performer fail anymore – you are simply propping them up.

If you aren’t going to fire them, you’re going to have to continue your close monitoring of the situation, leaving you no time for anything else.

Sometimes, it might be best to let them fail, because that’s how they learn to take accountability and improve.

However, this is not easy… it can be very stressful if you’re worried about people making mistakes!

What I would suggest in this case is to communicate your approach with your key stakeholders.

For example, you could tell your boss or peer managers that you are trying to help your team become more proactive and give them more autonomy. The result could be that standards might drop a little in the short-term, while they get used to it.

Communicating this possibility up front to your important stakeholders can be one way to reduce the risk of problems if something does go wrong.

Take It One Step at a Time

If you’ve developed a micromanagement habit, it can take some time to unwind.

So take it slow, identify the real reasons behind your behaviour and you’ll hopefully be able to make some incremental progress and start letting go.

Spending all your days controlling someone takes time away from coaching, mentoring and leading – which is what you’re meant to be doing.

Have you ever felt the need to micromanage someone? What was the reason? Let me and all the other thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!

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