Lead, don’t micromanage

I can feel the tightness in my chest and the blood rushing to my brain. My fingernails leave trails on the desk as I push down the anger boiling up.

I am trying desperately to respond with patience. “If I recall, I said I needed this spreadsheet done today.”

My administrator nods. “You did. You told me what to do, but I didn’t understand what the result needed to be. And without that, your instructions did not make sense.”

My mind flicks back into the Rolodex of conversations. She’s right – I told her what to do, I did not tell her why I wanted it.

I breathe deeply, remembering the fish stinks from the head, and I am the fish.

I explain why I want this spreadsheet, what I will use the information for.

“Oh.” She nods in understanding. “Then, I need to do it this way.”

She is kind and astute enough not to remind me that my original instructions would not have achieved the desired outcome.

I am a big-picture thinker. I can instantly see the outcome. I can’t always see the path there.

She is not a big-picture thinker, but when I give her the big picture, she can find the path to get me there. Together, we are a powerful team.

That day, I learned not to ruin this magical relationship, and other future relationships, by staying in my lane and supporting others to stay in theirs. I quit being a micromanager.

There are several differences between a micromanager and a leader.

A micromanager tells his/her team what to do and how to do it. That’s what I did and where I went wrong.

A leader asks his/her team how they will do it and explains why this project, their effort is important. That is what my administrator taught me.

A micromanager wants to own everyone’s work. A leader wants everyone to own their own work.

A micromanager gives unclear instructions and delivers feedback after the fact.

A leader ensures his/her team is clear on their direction and stays available and gives feedback continually.

A client of mine, a bank vice-president, had delegated an important task to one of her people. She considered this person to be reasonably competent, so she didn’t do any check-ins during the six weeks given for completion of the task.

She never forgot the lesson she learned when she was to review the task before presenting it to the board; she discovered it was barely started. A lack of clarity and no follow-through or feedback led to a dismal failure.

A micromanager doesn’t give public praise or recognition.

A leader publicly acknowledges the successes he/she reinforced. Behaviours such as team collaboration, calculated risk-taking, cross-team partnerships and, of course, outstanding individual contributions.

I recall asking my bookkeeper to reconstruct the financial statements. I had no idea how to do it, but I wanted to have all the costs from one department compartmentalized into one section of the financial statements so I could see the true costs of this department.

I took some time, explained the why of my request, went through the existing statements to give some examples of how it could look.

It was a complex task, with a meaningful outcome. She thought about it. And thought about it. I knew it would take some time. Once she put her mind to it, she knew what she needed to do to get me the result.

Voila! Mission accomplished.

  • High fives.
  • Praise.
  • Public recognition.

Personal growth and increased confidence for my bookkeeper.

A micromanager is too insecure and self-absorbed to acknowledge his/her own strengths and the strengths of their people.

A leader is strength-focused and aware of his/her own strengths and weaknesses.

A leader stays observant in noticing the strengths and opportunities for growth with his/her team.

A micromanager doesn’t seek input from the team. The team is afraid to ask questions, seek clarity.

A leader listens to ideas from the front lines and even the sidelines. The team feels safe in challenging the status quo, the ideas of others.

I am in the midst of developing some new food products (I know, who knew?). I am surrounded by people who have different experiences with food.

At first, I was determined this product could only be made in a pie dish. Then, my team exposed me to small cookie sheets, larger cookie sheets, a variety of liquids. The product went from solidly good to absolutely brilliant and innovative.

Without my willingness to not “know it all,” none of this would happen. I choose to recognize and acknowledge the strengths and creativity of the people around me.

A micromanager focuses on the immediate. A micromanager is not interested in the growth and development of his/her people, of the organization.

A leader shares what success looks like. A leader knows that the better his/her people do, the better the organization will do.

I am forever grateful to that administrator and the lessons she taught me — about spreadsheets and communication.

It made me a better leader.

Featured Posts