Managing and Leading

In my Leadersights workshop, we talk a little about the differences between leadership and management.  There are lots of different takes on this age-old debate.  Many of us have “Manager” in our job title, and generally that means we have people who report to us and for whom we assign work, assess performance, and write annual performance reviews.

Assigning work, assessing performance, and writing reviews are all “management” tasks.  But the only things we should manage are the processes that allow us to effectively do these tasks.  These tasks are not “Leadership” tasks.  Managers manage processes, but leaders lead people.  If instead we try to manage people, we usually fail as leaders.

As a quick example of that, think about the traits and behaviors of your best boss and worst boss.

One of the most consistent items that groups shared under the “Worst Boss” list is micromanaging.  When we think of micromanaging, from a staff perspective this is anytime the boss noses in and wants to know every detail about what you’re doing on a particular task, how you’re doing it, and how much time you’re taking on it.  Often, managers will tell staff not to do something one way and to specifically do it the way the manager tells them to do it.

From the manager’s perspective, we might think we’re actually helping our staff by knowing what is going on and saving them time by telling them how to do a job.

What looks to you as the manager like doing you job, feels to your staff that you’re controlling and suppressing their creativity; that you think you know how to do their job better than they do; and that you don’t trust them to do the job properly without your “sage wisdom.”  In other words, you’re a micromanaging jerk.

So as LEADERS, we need to understand the staff perspective and change our behavior if they perceive that we are micromanaging.  Let me be clear…It is NOT okay for you to be a micromanager.  You have to stop telling people how to do everything and let go of the control so they can be free to find better ways to complete their work.

If we view a manager’s tendency to micromanage as a problem and apply our C4 problem solving process to solve this, first we’d need to clarify what we’re doing that is seen as micromanaging, so that will allow us to define the problem more specifically.  I’ve kind of describe the most salient parts in previous paragraphs.  Next, we find the causes.

What’s causing you to be a micromanager?

It might be something you don’t consciously realize:  FEAR.  You may be subconsciously afraid to let go because you’ve been burned by people failing in the past.

It could also be EGO.  You may subconsciously believe that you have superior skills or knowledge that your staff should take advantage of.

Both of these will work together to show that you simply don’t TRUST your team to do their work without you.

The result is that 1) you are overburdened because you have to keep track of every little thing, which ends ups adding extra stress to your life; and 2) that your people resent that you are always micromanaging.  And as I said, you may not even be aware of it.

So how do we countermeasure this problem?

  1. Acknowledge the possibility that you’re a micromanager and that your people likely resent it.
  2. Ask your people to help you see when you enter the micromanaging space so you can step back and reframe your next actions. For this to work, you can’t retaliate or even defend your actions.  Thank them for the feedback.
  3. Ensure that the tasks you’ve assigned are clear, but don’t specify a method for completing the task. Let them do it.  If it’s a critical issue, remind them of any constraints (contractual, statutory, etc.) and tell them you are willing to help them if they need it.
  4. Let them do it and get out of the way. Don’t abandon them, but don’t constantly interfere.
  5. If it’s a task that is very important to you, find a way for them to post their daily status on a visual board that you can see when you want.

Your relationships with staff will improve if you’re truly open to letting go. You’ll have the opportunity to learn how capable and creative your hard-working staff can be, and you’ll have time to think about better ways to remove the barriers to human development that come doing important work.

If you have questions or would like to share a comment or story about this topic, send me an email.