From the Docs

Leaders Don’t Micromanage, Poor Managers Do

We’ve all had the type of manager who gives us a task and then never leaves us alone with it. Either they check in on us so frequently that we never make real progress, or they constantly correct us on how we’re proceeding such that the product is really theirs, not ours. Whether the manager is a control freak, anxious, employing the only management strategy they know or just incompetent, the path of an otherwise productive unit is undermined. Here are a few ways micromanagers negatively impact the work environment.

When managers micromanage, they rob subordinates of reasonable amounts of autonomy. It should be enough for a leader or good manager to clearly articulate their expectations and goal, delegate the task and then, with minimal supervision, expect the product to meet their expectations. To do otherwise removes autonomy. And the loss of autonomy has been shown repeatedly to be a significant variable in burnout and loss of job satisfaction. While “satisfaction” is defined pretty broadly in research, the associated outcomes of diminished satisfaction are very consistent (e.g., increased use of sick time, decreased productivity, decreased morale, slower work pace, decreased organizational loyalty).

Another problem with this type of management style is that it masks a subordinate’s level of competency. The only assessment that these types of managers make is that the subordinate “doesn’t do it the way I want” or “doesn’t do it the way I do it.” That’s not an assessment of someone’s skill. Subordinates who are superstars never get to shine, and subordinates who lack important skills never get trained or counseled into other positions.

A manager who is constantly checking in on the progress of a delegated task stops the process of the work on that task. And there are times when such a manager will take back the task to just do it themselves. While this behavior has impact on the areas I’ve already covered (e.g., autonomy and competency), it also significantly hampers the flow and expediency of the work product. When interrupted, the employee (and the manager and organization) loses valuable production time. The same is true if the task is reassigned. In the cases when the manager takes on the task, he/she makes several errors. First is the lost time; second and third, the impact on the employee’s satisfaction with the work and the trust in supervision is likely diminished. Fourth, the manager is wasting their and the organization’s resources by engaging in a task that is better suited for delegation. Finally, the manager fails to be a leader by addressing competency issues (both exceptional and lacking) with the subordinate if any such issues exist.

By limiting autonomy, checking in excessively, and wanting employees to do it their way, micromanagers stifle employee creativity. A leader will never truly know a subordinate’s capability if he or she always gives them a road map to which they must strictly adhere. Yes, there are times when we must all do some things a specific way. However, there are quite a few times when there are many paths to the same outcome, and where this flexibility can be allowed, it is better to be allowed. It allows subordinates to learn and perhaps teach a manager a thing or two. It also allows a leader and manager to truly assess a subordinate’s competency and provide appropriate feedback.

Leaders and good managers put themselves out of business. What I mean is that these individuals mentor subordinates into a level of competency that rivals their own. Top-performing managers and leaders have an “exit strategy.” This is a term often heard in entrepreneurial businesses. The idea is that going into a new venture, the leader already has a plan for leaving. In an agency as large as ours, and because of the movement through promotion or reassignment seen by managers, we can use the same language and general idea. When the manager leaves, how smoothly will the change go? Whether someone is promoting from within the current workgroup, or if the current workgroup needs to support a new manager, the transition should be as seamless as possible. However, the micromanager thwarts this with their behavior. When they move on, they create leadership voids and the voids are costly in lost productivity, morale and sometimes organizational loyalty.

By this point, some of you reading this are thinking or saying aloud, “But I have to watch my employees this much,” or perhaps, “Yeah, that’s exactly what my supervisor is doing!” So here’s the bitter pill of personal responsibility — honest self-assessment. Micromanagement is not the same as the close supervision needed by a subordinate who has shown a lack of ability or willingness to perform in some or all areas of their work. Managers who engage in any of the above behaviors need to assess the reasons why they use these strategies. If it is because the employee is incapable of performing a task for any reason, the appropriate intervention should be applied (e.g., additional training, mentoring or reassignment). Employees who complain about “micromanagement” need to assess their own performance and work behavior, and honestly reflect upon whether or not they have brought such close supervision upon themselves.

If you have any question about this topic or want a confidential consultation or a counseling appointment, contact Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500.