Micromanagement is one of those professional dynamics that everyone thinks they already understand. It’s so common that it has become a favorite element of humor in office sitcoms and movies.
Most of us can point to examples of micromanagement from our own professional careers, too.
But it’s not so funny when it happens in real life. And most often, we don’t understand the motivation behind this dynamic or know if there’s any way to evolve the situation.
- Here’s the truth: uncovering the motivation behind micromanagement is on you.
Today I’m challenging you to stay curious and put your assumptions about micromanagement aside. When we dig deeper into micromanagement, we can begin to see it for what it really is and can start to take responsibility for influencing the situation.
Addressing micromanagement is on you. Regardless of your authority, you have the power to evolve a dynamic of micromanagement by taking responsibility for your role in it.
COACHING: How are you contributing to micromanagement?
When we stay curious about the motivations behind micromanagement, we can begin to see this dynamic for what it really is: an inherent lack of trust and lack of responsibility-taking in all directions.
Trust is really our belief that someone else is willing to take responsibility. When we say that we want to build trust, what we really want to build is responsibility-taking and accountability – for our mistakes, our tasks and the things we agree we will take on.
When a leader doesn’t see their team members taking responsibility, they don’t trust that tasks will get done without their involvement. They feel their only leadership move is to assign and manage responsibility and they watch their team closely to ensure they are accountable for the responsibilities assigned.
The good news is, the ability to influence a dynamic of micromanagement is available to you no matter what role you play in it, by doing your part to build a culture of responsibility-taking.
If everyone on a team takes responsibility for their tasks and the results of those tasks, we create a system in which we can trust each other, hold each other accountable and get the job done without micromanagement.
PRACTICE: What can I try?
Now that we have a better understanding of the motivations behind micromanagement, we can use this knowledge to reflect on and take responsibility for our role in this dynamic.
We can take this approach whether we are being micromanaged or we are micromanaging others. We can courageously ask inquiring questions that aim to understand the heart of the issue, uncovering our own resistance to taking responsibility and exploring what we can do to make responsibility-taking normalized and expectations clear.
If you’re being micromanaged, try asking:
- Is there any resistance in me to taking responsibility? Why am I inclined to wait to be given responsibility?
- Where might our expectations for my work differ or be unclear?
- What is my prediction about what will happen if I take responsible and am held accountable without micromanagement?
- What capacity could I build in order to have the courage to take full responsibility and be ready for full accountability?
- Can I be transparent about my desire to take more responsibility instead of waiting to be given it?
If you’re the micromanager, try asking:
- What problems do I think I’m preventing by micromanaging the work of my team?
- Where am I tempted to assign responsibility rather than allow my team to take responsibility?
- How could expectations for this work be more clear?
- What is my prediction about what will happen if I allow my team to take responsibility and then hold them accountable?
- How can I offer or ask for responsibility-taking rather than assigning it?
When we ask these kinds of questions and are transparent about this inquiry within our teams, we show our colleagues that we are taking responsibility for our role – and are allowing them to take responsibility for their role – and we begin to build trust.
DEVELOPMENTAL CHALLENGE: Exploring the filters of others
If you’re working to influence an unproductive dynamic of micromanagement, then I’m challenging you to take these efforts one step further.
Micromanagement, at its core, is a dependence on the leader to assign responsibility. It’s this dependence that erodes trust and accountability. To truly advance a dynamic of micromanagement, we must not only build trust within our teams, but independence.
When we are transparent about our efforts to create independence and trust within our teams, the dynamic can become one of interdependence, where the independence of the responsibility-taker both relies on and supports the independence of the person who would have assigned it.
As a leader, take responsibility for the ways in which you have not been trusting and that you have assigned responsibility rather than offering it. Claim your new understanding of this behavior as dependence and let your team know that you believe you will all function better when you can work more independently and interdependently.
Be clear about your expectations. Tell your team you want them to take more responsibility and that you will reward this shift with the resources they need to succeed and a level of accountability that matches their level of responsibility.
Podcast & Book Recommendations
Be Legendary Podcast – Like many highly successful individuals, podcast host Brandon Lilly met a dark, blank space devoid of purpose when he put his uniform away for the last time. If our core identity is over-invested in the professional identity where we excel, we’re setting up a long drop-off when we take off that identity and attempt to make a transition. Whether you’re leading in business, sport, military or ministry, this podcast is worth a listen for an alternative and introspective approach to these profound and sometimes dangerous realities.
Leadership Without Easy Answers – Ronald Heifetz explores the challenges of leadership in today’s uncertain, economically and socially challenging world. The book encourages readers to take responsibility for their role in the decline of leadership, offering a practical approach to leadership development for those who lead as well as those who look to leaders for answers.