Micromanagement: Toxic to Healthy

Often we talk with people frustrated by micromanagement. It’s a common source of employee turnover and quite costly to naive employers.

Why are people micro-managed?

It’s easy to confuse who is causing the micro-management.

There are two potentials that are often conflated.

The first is that the leader does not have the ability to trust their employees as a systemic trait. They do not understand delegation, cannot accept the risk of failure, and have a limited growth capacity. This leader will not elevate their subordinates, will serve as the chokepoint, drive away strong performers, and attract co-dependants. This is a leader to avoid!

The second is a competent leader (still flawed) who has not yet seen the behavior or performance they need to see from a subordinate to justify taking off the training wheels. However, they will be providing opportunities (often small) for that person to be demonstrating initiative and correct decision making in order to build the required trust. It is unfair and unrealistic to start a new job and expect to be fully autonomous until trust is earned.

Good leaders do not set subordinates up for failure and scaling micro-management to their competence level is critical to measuring out the responsibility in accordance to trust in their demonstrated skill.

Always start with your own improvement first before expecting change from others.

If you find yourself being unpleasantly micro-managed, talk to your boss about how you can improve your performance. Don’t even raise the issue of “micro-management.” Focus on your performance. The micro-management is only a symptom of a larger trust issue. Ask them how you can support the team’s efforts better. A charitable conversation about what kind of contribution you can improve will also give your manager emotional bandwidth to introspect on their motives to discern how they may be dropping the ball, too.

Management is hard. Often interpreting micro-management from a manager is not as clear cut as the two previous examples. Often well-intentioned leaders have limited awareness around how their micro-management may be interpreted. Unless a manager is completely unwilling to grow, be patient. Change and growth take time in all of us.

As a manager, micro-management is not always evidence of a weak contributor. It may indicate a lack of training, goal alignment, or poor communication. It may be your fault. Unhealthy micro-management is like pain in your foot, it’s a symptom. Find out what the source of that pain is before you leap to a wrong conclusion.

How I (a recruiter) interpret complaints about micro-management

Discerning the full truth is particularly challenging when people are not able to recognize, empathize, and respect the motives of the other party they are unhappy with. If everything is always the other party’s fault, there is a good chance the person does not understand their contribution to the problem; they have a low EQ.

If you display maturity, humility, introspection, respect, charity, and gratitude, those are indicators you regularly discuss and solve problems from an optimistic growth-minded perspective, and consequently are likely a great person to hire.

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Author: TJ Kastning

TJ Kastning is the proud owner of Ambassador Search Group, a special high-touch, trust-based, old-fashioned headhunting firm serving only the best west coast companies.

To contact him email tj@ambassadorgroup.com.

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