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Aspirational Leadership

You’ve heard it a million times — people bitching about their micromanaging supervisors. I coach a lot of my former employees, and probably at least once a week I hear from someone who’s unlucky enough to work for a micromanager.  Could you be one?  Here’s a quick guide to help you rate yourself:

  1. Do you manage a team of smart, energetic people who know their jobs, but insist on telling them what to do anyway?
  2. Do you repeatedly showcase your expertise by second-guessing everyone on your team?
  3. Do you have to make all the decisions, set all the priorities, do all the talking?

If you answered "yes" to even one of these questions, then watch out! 

Micromanagers are the most demoralizing force in the workplace.  Nobody wants to work for someone who’s "right" all the time. Some of the most common results are frequent high turnover, and delayed and missed deadlines as the team scrambles to meet the latest insignificant demand from the boss.  More importantly, though, micromanaged teams are rarely able to execute strategically.  Micromanagers, by nature, can’t see the big picture.  They’re too busy managing the details!  And that is reflected in the performance of the team.

If you fit the mold of a micromanager, what can you do?  Try to practice what my old friend Jonathan Roberts refers to as "strategic management".  Get agreement from your team members on the outcomes you want.  Be results oriented, rather than prescriptive.  Then get out of the way and let them get to work.  Let go of the details, and focus on managing the team to the outcome.  Save your bullets for the decisions you really need to make.  You might be surprised.  Those highly paid individuals who work for you might know a thing or two about how to get the job done.

Once you’ve mastered strategic management, try to move beyond that to what I call "aspirational leadership".  Enroll your team in the outcomes.  Have them set goals appropriate to their areas of responsibility.  Encourage them to think for themselves, and swing for the fences instead of the infield.  In my opinion, this kind of leadership is the single most important ingredient in building high performance teams. 

And if you work for a micromanager, good luck.  You have my condolences.

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Howard H. Thaw May 26, 2005, 5:55 pm

    My observation is that there are two types of people that are difficult to help:

    Those that know everything, and
    Those that do not know what they do not know.

    As for the micromanager:

    They see much, observe little, and perceive less.

  • Donald Smith May 28, 2005, 4:36 am

    If you feel you are being micromanaged, one of the first questions is — do you actions warrant being micromanaged? In my experience, people who claim to be micromanaged are, in fact, almost always weak employees who need a lot of hand holding and guidance to get anything done.

    Perhaps it's not that your manager is a micromanager, perhaps you're just not a very good or trustworthy employee. I can be tough advice to give someone, but that's generally the explanation for 90% of cases.

    That being said, I sure am being micromanaged lately, but I'm sure I don't deserve it. I'm the perfect employee. LOL.

    – Don

  • Alec May 30, 2005, 8:05 am

    To your point, Don, a manager who feels he or she HAS to micro-manage an employee, but isn't by nature a micro-manager, needs to ask whether or not that employee is worth keeping.


  • Jack June 1, 2005, 2:37 pm

    In my experience, if I found someone need be micromanaged, I didn't do that. Peer review is a good method to do so. I will select his or her cooperator to do peer review. After some stragitic tutor, they will have things done well.

  • Susan Nunes November 9, 2006, 9:59 pm

    The post above is a crock. People micromanage because it's a power trip for them. I have an absolutely impossible boss right now, and believe me, it isn't because there is anything wrong with me; he does this with EVERYBODY.

    Face it: There are people in this world who are not cut out to be supervisors.

  • roro October 22, 2007, 2:39 am

    I love this article on micromanagers…raw and all too real, yet humorous.

    I agree with Susan. It is a power trip. I think some people take enjoyment in feeling like they are superior to others and they want to be known as the smartest person in the room and take credit for the work well done by others….sad, really. Micromanagers often do not know what they are doing, too. They frustrate themselves and the poor workers alongside them.

    It is especially a nightmare when the micromanager happens to be the owner's daughter! You, don't know power trip until you've worked with relatives! Pretty sick situation!

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