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“Good managers are brave, and generous with trust in their people. They want them to mature in their judgment and grow in their skills, preferring to err on the side of trusting too much than trusting too little.” - Scott Berkun, An Open Letter to Micromanagers

As a manager, you hear a lot of different requests from your employees. They ask for more responsibility, more time off, more money and more recognition. What’s one request you’ll never hear? “Please micromanage me more!” Yet, for many leaders, the tendency is to keep a firm grip on the minutiae of their teams’ daily tasks, rather than letting go and offering their team the freedom to succeed or (the horror!), to make mistakes.

Micromanaging is an easy trap to fall into. After all, you are only as successful as your team. But micromanaging chips away at team morale by establishing a tone of mistrust and limiting employees’ capacity to grow. Micromanaging also hurts you. If you are constantly worried about every little thing your employees are doing, it hampers your ability to focus on what’s really important and prevents you from articulating a compelling and strategically relevant vision for your team.

Signs You Are Micromanaging

As the old saying goes, the first step towards fixing is a problem is to recognize that you have one. You might be a micromanager if:

  • No project or task ever seems to be 100% correct.
  • You feel a sense of pride in making corrections.
  • You constantly find yourself thinking, “I would have approached that differently.”
  • You ask to be CC’d on all emails.
  • Any time you leave the office for more than 1 hour, you call just to “check in.”
  • You’re always deluged with work because no one on your team can handle your projects.
  • People tell you that you are a micromanager.

If this sounds like you, don’t worry! You have time to reform before you alienate your entire team – as long as you are willing to make a change.

The Fine Art Of Letting Go

Once you have recognized that you are micromanaging, you can begin to work through the process of letting go and building trust. First and foremost, you must realize that change is possible, but it cannot happen overnight, nor should it. Stepping away slowly will help you adjust, and increase the chances that you won’t fall back into a pattern of micromanagement.

Use this guide to help you loosen your grip:

  • Self-reflect – Ask yourself why it is you micromanage? What are the excuses you tell yourself that keep you locked in the pattern? For example, “If I want it done right, I have to do it myself.”
  • Get feedback – There is often a disconnect between your intentions as a leader and what the team is actually experiencing. You can’t fix the problem if you don’t know how your team truly feels. You may have to engage a third party or use anonymous surveys in order to get honest answers.
  • Realistically prioritize – Micromanagers have a tendency to think every task shares equal importance. They don’t. Sit down and determine which projects you need to be involved in, and which can realistically survive without you.
  • Talk it out – Sit down with your team and let them know that you are working on your micromanaging ways. Share your newly determined priorities with them, and work out a new process for being kept in the loop that doesn’t involve controlling every move.
  • Do a test run – Start by stepping back on a non-urgent program, process or project to help get everyone used to the new and improved you.
  • Build trust – Give positive feedback and tell your staff you trust them to rise to the occasion.
  • Help, don’t do – Employees do have limitations. When someone encounters a problem or challenge, help him or her find the solution. Don’t step in and do it for them.
  • Surround yourself with great people – Create a culture with accountable people. Hire the right people from the start.
  • Clearly and frequently articulate expectations – Use documented KPIs to evaluate your team, and evaluate them regularly to measure progress, and avoid subjective judgements of success.

Micromanaging is a common problem among leaders, though it comes with the best intentions. But executing too much control stifles productivity, destroys morale, and keeps you, and them, from growing as a professional. Letting go benefits everyone – and when you realize your team can rise to the occasion, you’ll love the new sense of pride you feel for the group.


Larry Hart

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