By Kevin Eikenberry

Almost everyone has worked for a micromanager at some point. You know the type who insists on signing off on everything, who wants you to document your every move, who requests ridiculously long status and progress reports, and who basically dictates how employees should do their work.

I never understood why a leader would choose to spend the time micromanaging their employees. I mean, if you hire the right people, train them well, and address any performance slips, you ought to have full faith in their abilities, right?

I don’t buy into the whole “But if I don’t do this, they won’t do what they are suppose to do!” business. If you can’t trust employees to do their work, that’s on you. You, as the leader, have failed in some way. That may be hard to stomach, but it’s the truth. If you have given them all the support, guidance and knowledge they need to succeed, they usually will, and well, if they have all that and refuse to do so, you probably need to cut them loose. Either way, you eliminate the need to micromanage, and you should want to.

It’s counter-productive. You waste time you could be spending on more important matters, like growing the business. Plus, you stunt employees’ career growth, crush their morale, motivation and creativity, and slow progress.

In our remote leadership training sessions, we hear all kinds of excuses for why leaders attempt to micromanage from afar. They say things like “How do I know they’re working?” if I don’t micromanage? or “I can’t see them, so I need a process to ensure that they aren’t wasting the day away.”

But to that, again I ask “If you have hired the right people, trained them well, and addressed performance slips, you ought to have full faith in them, right?” That applies if they sit in your line of sight all day or whether they work 2000 miles away. So it’s critical to put your micromanaging tendencies to rest, using these six tips:

  • Create clear expectations. One reason we micromanage is that we aren’t sure people fully understand the task, the importance of the task and more. How do we solve that? By providing clear, mutually understood expectations. When you as a leader know that the other person is clear on the goal, the importance of the outcome and everything else that is relevant, you are less likely to check in “just to make sure.”
  • Focus on outcomes first, not approaches. Oftentimes we micromanage because we want people to do it like we would do it. Stop. It shouldn’t be “your way or the highway.” Focus on the outcome, not the approach or process. Be clear with yourself and others that results are what matter. Be OK when people reach them differently than you would, as long as the key measures of success are met.
  • Find out how they’d like your support. Once the expectations are clear, ask: “How can I support you so you will be successful?” or “What help do you need from me?” Open a dialogue about how and when you will connect, how you will receive the updates you need, and how you will offer employees the coaching they need.
  • Give people a chance to succeed. Let people get to work, and trust that they want to do a great job. One of the biggest problems with micromanagement is that people feel they aren’t trusted. Don’t be that boss. Believe they care about the results as much as you do.
  • Offer employees a safety net. I know one reason you might give for checking in regularly is that you don’t want them to fail, the project to fail, or for you to be seen as failing in leading your team. That is understandable, so provide a safety net which prevents major problems and keeps people from veering dangerously off track. Remember too that a safety net provides some space, not someone holding a person’s hand all the time. It might be as simple as saying “Come to me the minute you are unsure about what to do next.”
  • Get out of your own way. Maybe you have a way you want it done. (If people meet all of the expectations, why would that matter?) Maybe you think no one can do it as well as you. (Really?). Here’s the bottom line: Micromanagement is often more about us, than the person we are trying to “help.” If you want to avoid micromanagement, you need to let go of your issues, your need for control, and frankly, get over yourself. If you have done the steps above, that shouldn’t really be that difficult.

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