Micromanagement and Imposter Syndrome, often derived from insecurity, isolation, & feelings of lack of control, are common among leaders. Catamentum helps alleviate them with leadership coaching.
“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
– Gen. George S. Patton
Micromanagement is not true leadership, as General Patton knew. Even in a top-down, chain-of-command organization like the Army, effective leaders give their subordinates opportunities to contribute and shine. Micromanagement takes away those opportunities, to the detriment of the organization. This blog will take a look at the signs, sources, and potential cures for micromanagement.
Some Symptoms of Micromanagement
We’ve all heard that micromanagement is a “dirty word” in business. Many of us have experienced it at some point, and a few of us may have been guilty of it. It’s a behavior that can take a variety of forms, usually reflecting a desire for control.
The micromanager may give staff constant reminders of tasks and deadlines, or demand frequent updates, reports, and meetings about work in progress. These behaviors reflect lack of trust in the basic competence of the workforce, which can sap morale and confidence.
The micromanager tends to focus on tiny details, regardless of context. The micromanager also tends to emphasize shortcomings, in other words, nitpicking, whether the project is big or small – an interoffice memo may get the same level of scrutiny as a client presentation.
Withholding information is another tactic of the micromanager. The behavior may take the form of doling out tasks individually, while withholding the bigger picture. The micromanager may also withhold strategic information about goals, projects, and plans. The intent in these cases may be to amplify the micromanager’s status as an expert – or as the “smartest person in the room.”
The result is to rob the micromanager’s staff of autonomy and initiative. It also robs them of opportunities to grow and develop in their roles. The micromanaged employee can feel stifled and frustrated, leading to disengagement and turnover.
The organization suffers not only from a loss of employee engagement, but from the loss of time and attention the manager could spend on more strategic concerns.
What Are the Causes of Micromanagement?
Few people intend to become micromanagers, yet the problem persists. We can identify a few root causes of the behavior. In some cases, the cause may be insecurity, or a feeling of “Imposter Syndrome,” where despite being high-performers, managers may feel like a “fraud” because they doubt their ability to succeed in their roles. Imposter Syndrome is very common, and coaching can help managers overcome it. Apart from it, there are some common sources for workplace micromanagement.
One cause is a feeling of isolation. As they rise through the ranks, senior managers may feel increasingly disconnected from the day to day work of their organizations. These managers may, for example, demand more and more updates and reports to relieve their anxiety.
Another source of micromanagement is loss of control. One of the ironies of rising into upper management is that, as overall authority increases, the manager’s direct control over operations decreases. Former frontline superstars can have a hard time letting others do the tasks they once excelled in.
The desire for control, feelings of isolation or insecurity, and other factors can result in feeling the need to micromanage others. However, with coaching, managers can learn to let go as a part of professional development. Organizations can also take deliberate steps to reduce micromanagement.
Letting Go of Micromanagement
A few simple steps can help. The first is to follow General Patton’s advice: Tell people what to do, but not how to do it.
In most cases, managers can frame the goals to be achieved without describing each step along the way. Speaking in terms of outcomes and goals gives employees room to exercise judgment and develop skills. Managers can and should make themselves available to give guidance and advice if needed. But unless the employee needs training, step-by-step instructions can be avoided.
Another way to eliminate micromanagement is to set reasonable expectations in advance for progress reports and feedback. At the beginning of a project, let employees know when and how they’ll be expected to provide updates about work in progress. This can go a long way toward reducing the feeling of being micromanaged.
Finally, not all work warrants the same level of management and feedback. Big projects, risky projects, or novel situations will merit more attention and feedback than small or routine projects. The level of attention should be based on the importance of a project for the organization.
When the roles and expectations are clear and reasonable, both managers and employees can do their best work. Employees will have the autonomy to show their ingenuity and develop their skills. Managers can turn their attention to making strategic decisions for the organization. Letting go of micromanagement is a win for everyone.
Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.
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