What Great Bosses Know about Micromanaging

October 26, 2009
Category: Uncategorized

A manager recently touched base with me about a challenge. She’s frustrated by a new boss who is, in her words, “a serious micromanager” — far different from her previous boss who was “completely hands-off, except in a crisis.” Our exchange about that situation led me to today’s column: a look at micromanagement and how to minimize it.

Here’s my definition of micromanagers: Supervisors who exercise a high degree of scrutiny of, control over and participation in the work of those they manage.

That’s probably a kinder definition than some would offer, especially those who feel oppressed, stressed and second-guessed by micromanagers, day after day. But as I told the person who contacted me, there are a variety of micromanagers, and most don’t have sinister motives. Here are six types:

  1. The Well-intentioned: These bosses want to demonstrate their care and work ethic, so they “keep a hand in the mix.”
  2. The Worriers: They’re terrified of failure and think they must control decision-making.
  3. The Brainwashed: These bosses worked for micromanagers who trained them to think it’s normal leadership.
  4. The Bullied: These bosses are kept on a tight leash by their own managers and are expected to follow suit with their staff.
  5. The Correctly Cautious: They have yet to develop a trusting relationship with those they manage. Or, to be more blunt: The staff’s performance needs to improve before the manager can exercise less control.
  6. The Control Freaks: They enjoy their power and don’t want to share it with others.

The easiest thing for micromanaged staffers to do is assume their boss is a Number Six. They chalk up the boss’s behavior to a character flaw, period. They don’t attempt the hard work of managing the boss toward a better relationship. They don’t ask themselves the tough questions about their own performance and how they may have to change it to build more trust and less micromanagement.

Do you worry that your staff sees you as a micromanager? Worse yet, a Number Six? Here’s a little quiz you can take. Answer on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 meaning “I’m great at this.”

  1. I delegate everyday decision-making to the people closest to the work.
  2. My staff knows the point at which an issue requires my involvement, and they see that threshold as reasonable.
  3. I share important information with staff so they feel involved and invested.
  4. I enjoy giving people increasingly greater responsibility and authority as they grow.
  5. I don’t feel the need to have my fingerprints on everything we do.
  6. When I keep a hand in the work of the team, it is only to help in ways they appreciate.
  7. If I have to closely supervise employees because their work needs improvement, I give them clear feedback on their performance so they know why I’m involved.
  8. Even when I’m under pressure from my own bosses, I try not to become a dictator to the team.
  9. I believe in hiring people who are smarter than I am and helping them shine.
  10. I would hate to be known as a micromanager.

What was your grade? I hope you’re an “80” or better. Most of all, I hope you would feel comfortable asking your staff to answer those questions based on their perception. You might find some opportunities to clear up misunderstandings and unconscious or unintended micromanaging behaviors.

But if you’re truly a great boss, they’ll probably score you higher than you scored yourself.

Why is it so tempting, yet so dangerous, to micromanage in a tough business climate? I’ll explain in today’s podcast, “What Great Bosses Know about Micromanaging.”

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and everywhere.

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