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Tyler Hawkins
Tyler Hawkins

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Why We Micromanage

No one likes to be micromanaged. And yet, it happens all the time. So why do we do it? What drives someone to be a micromanager?

We micromanage for one of two reasons: We don’t trust the person to do the job well, or we don’t trust the person to get the job done on time.

Think about the last time you micromanaged someone or the last time you felt like you were being micromanaged, and you’ll find that these statements ring true.


Overcoming the Tendency to Micromanage

Micromanagement is a trust issue, but ultimately it stems from the micromanager caring about their work. It may seem odd to say, but micromanagement is often a byproduct of good intentions. If you are a manager and you tend to micromanage those who report to you, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you aren’t in fact a jerk, you just care deeply about what you do.

In fact, you probably care so much about the work being done right that you’ve convinced yourself that you’re the only one who can do the job correctly. One of the biggest challenges new managers face as they move from an individual contributor role to a management role is learning to let go. You are no longer directly involved in the work, and you must learn to trust your team. You are accountable for the work, but you are no longer directly responsible for the work.

So let’s go back to those two trust issues. You worry about the job being done right and about the job being done on time.

If you’re concerned that a direct report won’t do a task correctly, ask yourself, “Have I explained the task sufficiently?” If the instructions are unclear, the end result may not be what you expect.

You may also want to ask yourself, “Does my direct report have the training, tools, and support they need in order to complete this task?” A good manager knows how to delegate, but delegation does not mean throwing something over the wall without providing proper support.

You might also consider whether the person you’ve delegated to is capable of completing the task you’ve given them. Stretch assignments are a wonderful tool in helping people grow, but it’s important that the task isn’t so far out of their reach that there’s no way they can possibly complete it. This is just setting your direct report up for failure.

If you’re concerned that a direct report won’t complete the task on time, be sure that you’ve clearly communicated the deadline, if there is one. You may need to check in from time to time (but not too frequently!) to ensure that progress is being made. If there is a hard deadline and it looks like the timeline is slipping, be sure to call in help before the very last minute.


Dealing with a Micromanager

Now, how about the flip side of this scenario? How do you handle your micromanager boss? It turns out that a lot of the advice is the same!

If you are unsure that you understand the task that you’ve been given, ask for clarification immediately. It’s much better to be on the same page as your manager than to wander off in a different direction, only for them to check in later and see that you’ve completely misunderstood what was supposed to be done. This is frustrating for both sides.

Once you have clarity on the task and also on the deadline, it’s time to get to work. If you know that your manager has a tendency to follow up with you frequently, stay one step ahead of them and proactively report your progress rather than waiting for them to ask. This may seem tedious at first, but your manager will appreciate the updates and will be reassured that you’re taking care of things. Over time trust will grow, and these status reports will need to be given less frequently.


Conclusion

Micromanagement is a trust issue. Let’s learn to communicate more effectively, delegate more carefully, and trust our team to do their best work.

Discussion (2)

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Robin Bastiaan

There is no such thing as over-communication. It is much better to give updates too frequent then too infrequent. 💬🤝

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Tyler Hawkins Author

To an extent, yes.

As an extremely exaggerated example, imagine if I sent you a Slack message every one minute though. That's definitely over-communication. And even as a less extreme example, there's some threshold where too many updates creates too much noise.

But as a general principle, absolutely, I agree with you. We should err on the side of over-communicating rather than under-communicating.