What You Communicate When You Micromanage by: Phil Alsup

What You Communicate When You Micromanage

Time for a self-assessment and the stakes are high. I want us to think on a characteristic that squashes creativity and encumbers the talents of a team. Even worse many people who exhibit this characteristic don’t realize what they are doing. Candidly, this behavior is a proven hindrance to both team productivity and moving forward in your career. I’m talking about leading people so tightly that they are not allowed to work on their own or carry out their responsibilities. Often referred to as micromanaging it’s a style that can keep an organization from moving forward. It’s a systemic problem in management that is dangerous because it creates situations where one’s leadership style is driven by insecurity.

Micromanaging people isn’t just a list of counter-productive behaviors, it is a pattern of not edifying others and seeing team members as simply a means to a desired result.

While it’s tempting to take a slant on the Jeff Foxworthy line of comedy and produce a humorous list of one-liners such as “If you ever texted someone three times before lunch for a project update….you might be a micromanager” I’d rather concentrate on what one communicates when one micromanages. As leaders who seek to exemplify Christ we have to be highly aware of not simply our actions but how they affect people. Micromanaging people isn’t just a list of counter-productive behaviors, it is a pattern of not edifying others and seeing team members as simply a means to a desired result. Below are three examples of how this plays out and the message it communicates.


When you struggle to delegate you are saying “I don’t believe in your talent.”

Possibly the first skill of leadership one has to learn is the skill of delegation. One person can’t do it all and people were placed around you for a reason: they have talent to contribute. As the leader you have a role to make sure the sum of the parts is working toward solutions, not to perform the tasks of each part. Few things are as maddening as not being empowered to contribute. A micromanager thinks they may be securing a better project outcome by controlling all the work they see as critical but in reality they are hurting the project by not letting people do what they are supposed to do. You don’t have to be the expert on how each task is carried out. Choose instead to believe in the talents of those around you and invest toward empowering them to give their best.

When you tell someone how to do the work you are saying “I don’t trust your judgement.

It’s one thing to not trust someone’s skills but it risks becoming very personal when you don’t trust someone’s judgement. It feels very insulting. When you give someone a task but don’t allow them the chance to do it you are telling them “I don’t believe in your integrity.” No longer is it an issue of not utilizing a person’s skills; it now is a divisive wedge that will kill a work culture. This is different from offering advice you may have on best practices. This comes down to telling them exactly how you want the details of this assignment to be worked out and constantly checking to see if it has been done. If you trust someone to do the job then you have to step back and trust them to know how to do it. If it goes well then rejoice with them. If the project ends up missing the mark then coach them up for the next time. That’s the work of a leader.

When you think more about other’s work than your own you are telling your supervisor, “I can’t think strategically.

Micromanagers can look good for a while with their supervisors if the results are present. Eventually, however, they will encounter a supervisor who sees the environment for what it is and intuitively knows that this person isn’t a strategic leader. They are smart enough to see that if this micromanager is so busy with the details that the team should be doing then this person doesn’t have time to focus on the type of results one wants from a team leader. Namely evaluation and strategic thinking about the overall project and how to move the work forward. The person who gains more responsibility isn’t the one who knows every trivial detail of the processes of a project; it’s the person who understands the overall purpose of the project, its place in the overall work of the organization, and how to improve it. A micromanager is simply too far into the day to day details of the team to be able to effectively provide this type of leadership.

The person who gains more responsibility isn’t the one who knows every trivial detail of the processes of a project; it’s the person who understands the overall purpose of the project, its place in the overall work of the organization, and how to improve it.

The first step in avoiding becoming a micromanager is realizing your own insecurities. That comes with some basic emotional intelligence and Dr. John Basie has an excellent blogpost on our site. In the meantime understanding the harmful and hurtful messages one communicates when micromanaging should be a motivating factor for all of us to consider.

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