Yes to Micromanaging

… as an effective short-term management technique.

In leading management trainings at The Boeing Company, I used to teach about work styles.  And I’d tell the aerospace managers that regardless of the employee’s work style, there’s one management behavior everyone hates:  micromanaging.

It makes sense:  If you micromanage me, you take away my autonomy.  You take away my creativity.  You take away my motivation.  You take away my pride in my efforts.  We need all those in our work.  We need all those in our lives.

MICROMANAGING:  when my boss tells me “what to do and how to do it” in a way that unnecessarily restricts my creativity or flexibility.

But there are a few scenarios – and they should always be short-term – in which micromanaging is appropriate.

  1. In building a new team, or orienting a new team member – to set clear expectations, to teach new skills, to foster specific, critical behaviors. (But if you have to continue to engage at that level of detail after an appropriate learning period, you’re both eroding the employee’s long-term motivation, and you’re abdicating your bigger-picture responsibilities as a leader.)
  2. To correct errant employee behavior.  If things are going wrong, and you thought you’d been clear on the expectations – on the “contract” for the work assigned — then micromanaging might uncover and resolve what’s not working.
  3. When an employee requests that you engage at the “weeds” level because of something he doesn’t understand or needs help with.
  4. When the deadline pressure or performance pressure on you from above is so intense that you have no choice.  Even in this case, though, micromanaging should be minimized – andyou should promise the team it’ll be temporary.
  5. To really piss people off.  Because if it doesn’t fit one of the above four scenarios, nobody will like you as a boss, nobody will respect you as a boss, and people will leave at the first chance.

In the situations above (well, all except #5), if you’re not micromanaging, you may be avoiding your responsibilities as a leader.  But in pretty much all situations except those four, if you find yourself micromanaging often, your leadership is breaking down – perhaps because:

  • your employees don’t have the skills they should have – bad hires or bad training;
  • your team doesn’t have the systems and processes they need to thrive;
  • you don’t have enough trust in your direct reports;
  • you need, for the sake of your ego, to play the hero, the savior, or the dictator.

What have I missed in this take on micromanaging?  Please let me know below …

About the Author

Steve Motenko
Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

2 thoughts on "Yes to Micromanaging"

  1. Paul says:

    You will probably have great insight on this during the show, but the real question is how to mentor micromanagers. I have one manager on my team. One of the best performers on my team. As a people manager, she is just reluctant to delegate; especially when she views her reports as sub-par performers, unlike herself. I am finding it very hard to coach this individual. She is not resistant and nods her head, I just don’t think she really believes in my point of view and her behavior is not changing.

  2. Debra Bradley says:

    Great thoughts. Micro-managing – the word – certainly has bad connotations. Could you use any other word instead? (brainstorming here). If you micro-manage, people automatically feel #5.

    Could you say “competence”? When you have to get “in the weeds” or involved due to deadline pressure, are you having to demonstrate competency and credibility? (We’ve all had the boss who gives instructions – usually impossible – that could never pull it off themselves.

    Like this blog.

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