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Six Ways to Avoid Being a Micro Manager

Think about your perfect supervisor/manager/leader for a minute. Build a mental list of the attributes that perfect person would possess and think about the words you would use to describe that person.


I don’t know what is on your list, but I’d bet the farm on what isn’t.

Micro manager.

I’ve never met anyone who wanted a micro manager for a boss.

Yet I’ve met many who felt they had a supervisor who was a micro manager, and I’ve met many leaders who struggle with that characteristic – knowing that they don’t want to be seen as one. I also know – for the most part – people who are seen as micro managers are acting with good intentions.

It’s quite an organizational paradox.

The biggest challenge in understanding (and therefore unraveling) this paradox is to recognize there isn’t a common definition of a micro manager.

* It looks different to the manager because he/she understands his/her intentions and may not understand the unintended consequences of the actions.
* It looks different to employees because at different stages in professional development (and at different confidence levels) employees need different levels of direction.

As a leader, once you recognize this definitional and situational challenge you will set the stage to improve your skills in this area. So with that as a starting point, let me share six specific things you can do to avoid being or being seen as a micro manager.

Build a mutual agreement of success.
This is the starting point. Does your team member understand what successful completion of the task or project looks like? Do all employees know your expectations? And at least as importantly, do you believe they know? Missing this step causes problems because you want to make sure the project (and the person) is successful, and if you aren’t sure the team knows what success is (or if you keep moving the target in your mind) you naturally are going to want to check in frequently. Hmmm… that could be seen as micro management, right?

Provide the right training.
Does the person know how to do the job or task? If you know he/she does, isn’t it easier to let him/her go for it? When you keep stepping in to provide just-in-time training, it might feel like micro management. That is a pretty good reason to give all the skills for success from the start.

Focus on what, not how.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for any leader is that often you are asking people to do things that you know how to do very well. And likely you are proud of your performance in that area and are truly an expert in completing the task. When this is true, leaders often start thinking that success isn’t about the end result, but about doing it their way. When you can keep your focus on the successful completion of the task, it is easier to avoid stepping in too often to “help.” This is perhaps the failing leaders have who are seen as micro managers.

Remember it isn’t your job.
Repeat after me: It is their job, not yours. You grew by trying new things, and making an occasional error, right? Why would you want to rob others of that chance? Yes, I know there is something to be said for best practices, etc. But sharing a best practice is rarely seen as micro management. Want to stop micro managing? Do the steps above and then, let them do it.

Ask them what they need from you.
Because different people have different needs for support and help, why not ask people what level of support they need from you? You might need to adjust their expectations a little, but this is a great place to start. It also opens the lines of communication for the last tip…

Ask for ongoing feedback.
Let people know your goal isn’t to be a micro manager. Let them know your intention, and tell them you want their feedback. If you are truly open to their feedback and will make adjustments to your behavior based on it, this approach is a big step in your growth and will change people’s perceptions of you as a coach and leader immensely (and almost immediately). However, don’t ask for feedback if you don’t want it. But if you do, their feedback will help you calibrate your level of help and guidance to a successful place – not a place of micro management.

If you want to grow as a leader, and don’t want to be seen as a micro manager, these six steps will help.

Special Secrets to Micro-Managing Employee Performance

The traditional view of micro-management is where a manager is so neurotic about the delivery of results that he or she cannot leave individuals to their own devices.

Micro-managers sabotage success simply because they are so close to what their people do that they stifle performance, thereby making the achievements of the desired results even more unlikely.

By failing to give responsibility to each individual to deliver what’s required, micro-managers very nearly do their job for them. This can be very demanding for the manager, who has to keep many more plates spinning than their role allows for, leading to not only exhaustion, but also to actual underperformance as they spread themselves too thinly to ensure quality outputs.

Employees find this sort of micro-management behavior incredibly frustrating. They feel watched, which diminishes their confidence. They feel that they are not trusted, so they tend to play safe and take few risks. They also find that they get nervous too, when they expect their boss to pop up at any moment to interfere and give them the guidance they clearly don’t need.

So micro-management is regarded by employees as a bad thing.

Smart managers micro-manage differently.

By seeking to interact with their people much less directly, they can understand the different motivators that every individual needs specially personalised to them. Getting to know their people, these particularly effective managers not only get to know what’s going on, they build strong, supportive and focused relationships that deliver.

Micro-managing relationships in this way, means that instead of getting close to the activities their people as tasked to deliver, they simply get close to the people themselves.

And it’s a set of skills that are easy to learn. Instead of being clever and knowing what’s best in the approach to tasks, savvy managers ask their people easy question, let them talk – and then listen, a lot. They let their people feel they are the success, because when employees talk, these exceptional managers recognise that what works is simply listening to them with focused attention and then asking them some more.

Micro-managing relationships is so much more valuable than micro-managing tasks. The accountability for team success clearly lies with a manager. Responsibility for delivering the component tasks that make up the big-picture result lies with individuals. Then each is doing what their individual roles requires.

Creating the sort of relationships that enable this dynamic and productive interaction is what defines the very best of management behaviors and attitudes.

Employees feel valued, heard, capable and confident and go on to contribute more; be pro-active; show their creativity; take on more. Managers make time for their people and, with clear expectations of each and every one of their people defined, step back from getting in the way.

Micromanaging relationships works very effectively indeed. A long way from micro-managing tasks, for which it’s much better to leave to the valuable resource of the employees they lead.

The Power of Reasonable Micro Management

Caution is one thing, consistent protection of yourself is not exactly another, but almost. Micro management is the most powerful thing you can do for yourself and your life. Although it would seem hard, it actually makes things easier and more manageable. Think about it, laziness is being off guard and not being lazy is productive, proactive micromanagement, not paranoia as some would be apt to think. In my mind, safety is king, but complete safety is paranoia, that is where productive, proactive micro management comes in. Keeping things safe and running well, without needing to be paranoid after something happens that is scary or bad. Sure, bad things and scary things will still happen, but they are more manageable when you have the capacity to handle them right and with a calm mind.

In credit, identity theft is an example of what can happen that is scary or bad, but if you are prepared and can micro manage your recovery, all the better. But, if you can prevent anything from happening by being productively cautious and not paranoid, all the better.

My point is, productive caution and logical micro management is the playground of angels. Laziness is the playground of devils to take advantage of you. That is my biggest point because if you take things for granted or get careless even in small ways, things do happen and they are not good. Sure, you can recover from slips and falls. But do you really want to or is logical prevention the answer? I know logical preventive measures and micro management is the answer. If it was not, then we could all be lazy and have everything all the time. Even in the most deluded of minds, that would not work, realistically or unrealistically. Reality is the keyword here.

Reality, in an even cursory way tells us all that we must be at least somewhat cautious to make it through the obstacle course of life. The only thing that is not an obstacle course, and just a course of corpses that do not move is death, and what happens after active life is the real scrimmage that does not count. Credit can only genuinely happen for those that are living, breathing, thinking and in action.

In action, the living, working, not lazy person is right. The dead, lazy, gone in any way person is wrong, dead wrong. Think about it, that is the reality of the situation in every genuine sense, way and form. Even unlawful forms. My point is to get anything done, there has to be a certain amount of initiation and action, good or bad and for things to work properly, there at least must be cursory caution, let alone proper caution. In thought the rationally cautious person is right, the lazy person is genuinely wrong. That is the crux of the matter. In fact the core of all reasonable micro management is rationally and reasonably cautious, no more, no less.