I’d like you to think of two leaders you have worked with, one who empowers their team and one who is a micromanager. Chances are, the first leader provides clarity on expectations and desired outcomes, and trusts the team to determine how objectives are achieved. The second leader may also set clear expectations, but is so deep in the details that people can hardly make a decision on their own.
Which leader would you rather work with? It’s probably not the one dictating how you should work. The command & control leadership style was popular in the early1900s and is ideal for emergency situations where immediate action is required by people who are highly trained. When a building is on fire and somebody needs to be rescued from the 10th floor, there is no time for a planning offsite to consider our options. But for the majority of today’s situations, this style of leadership should be left behind in the 1900s.
Micromanagement takes a toll
Everybody is ‘busy’. Yet one of the biggest opportunities to save time is to stop micromanaging. It takes an incredible amount of time and energy to micromanage a team. Furthermore, micromanagement is a surefire way to lower engagement, psychological safety – and performance! Our research shows that involving people in planning and allowing them the freedom to determine how objectives are achieved are core elements of a high-performance culture. If you are a micromanager, even just some of the time, there is a reason behind this harmful style of leadership.
Here are three strategies you can use to avoid the costs of micromanagement, for yourself and your team.
1. The alien abduction test
One way to reduce micromanagement is to hold people capable. I use the ‘alien abduction test’ in my coaching and ask leaders, “if you were temporarily abducted by aliens, could your team still achieve its objectives?” (This is safer and less violent than the traditional ‘if you were hit by a bus’ line of questioning).
- If the answer is ‘yes’, then you likely have an opportunity to hold people capable, empowering the team to achieve the outcomes you set.
- If the answer is ‘no’, then you likely need to focus on employee growth and development and/or hiring new talent to allow you to get out of the team’s how.
2. Leaders vs Peer Support
Our research delineates between Leader Support (things a leader can do directly) and Peer Support (things people need to do for themselves). In the High-Performance Index™, clarity, performance, and development are leader support activities. These are things that leaders can provide their team with. For example, leaders are responsible for giving clarity on what is to be accomplished and establish priorities. Peer Support comprises meaning, teamwork and accountability. People need to decide for themselves what work is most meaningful, people have to be a great teammate themselves, and all employees need to hold each other accountable.
When we empower people to determine how to achieve the organizational goals, all elements of Peer Support increase: people find more Meaning in their work, cross-functional Teamwork is stronger and people are more likely to hold themselves Accountable. On the flipside, when we micromanage people, all elements of Peer Support are diminished.
3. Trust and verify
This is not to say that leaders should set the targets and then completely let go, hoping everything works out. We suggest using a ‘trust & verify’ approach where we hold people capable, while verifying that the team is on track to achieve the desired outcomes. You can create key performance indicators to help define milestones and track progress.You may have deep expertise which you can use to ask powerful, supportive questions.
It’s important to stay in a ‘verify’ perspective, ensuring the team is on track, while avoiding the urge to audit every facet of each task. To avoid micromanagement, leaders focus on ‘are we likely to achieve the outcomes’ instead of unnecessarily ‘auditing the team’s approach’. If you cross this line, you risk a lack of trust in their judgment and capability. Auditing behaviour will cause Peer Support, as explained above, to drop and performance will suffer.
Things can be tricky when a team leader also has specific tasks to do. I remember back in the early 1990s when Joel Quennville was a defenceman for his professional hockey team, while also being an assistant coach. This is a fine line to walk. The key is to use the HPI™ Leader Support elements (clarity, performance, and development) to guide your actions when you are the coach, and Peer Support elements (meaning, teamwork, and accountability) when you are the player. If you are a team leader with specific tasks to contribute, you are on the Peer Support side. This makes you just one more teammate doing your work, so it is important to stay focused on your task and manage any tendencies to delve into other people’s ‘how’.