Does this sound like you? There is a leadership paradox which says that leaders need to manage the tension between trusting their team members and keeping an eye on things. Many leaders step way over the line on this one. Instead of collaborating with their team members and checking in with them regularly, they spend much of their time checking up on their people, and the balance of the time holding themselves aloof from the team. There is a distinct difference between checking in and checking on.
Managers who check on their team members make four kinds of mistakes:
- The first is that they fail to allow team members autonomy in carrying out their work. Micromanagers dictate chapter and verse of what must be done and how it must be done.
The more empowering version of checking in would involve giving the team a clear strategic goal, and respecting their ideas on how to meet that goal.
- The second mistake that micromanagers make is to frequently ask team members about how the work is progressing, but fail to provide any real help when problems arise.
- Their third mistake is to look for someone to blame when mistakes happen or things go wrong.
They would be far more empowering if they guided team members through an open exploration of causes and possible solutions. The consequence of this is that team members end up trying to look good (or at least not look bad) rather than honestly discussing problems and how to overcome them. They live in a permanent Threat (of appearing incompetent) → Anxiety → Defensiveness pattern, and team members’ perceptions of their manager settle into a permanent low place.
- The fourth mistake of micromanagers is that they rarely share information about their own work with their team members. This often includes withholding information that would help them in their work – and this feels remarkably like an over-controlling parent, which causes team members to feel infantilized, and their motivation and effectiveness plummets.
So what is the solution? The following guidelines will help:
- Give the team/team member clear strategic goals that clearly describe the outputs required, any specific standards that the output must meet and any deadlines that must be met.
- Check in regularly to establish how the team (or team member) is progressing and to ask what support they need in order to continue to make progress. Then provide that support.
- Use your systems and management processes to monitor output. When it appears that there are problems with output, check in with the team/team member with a view to understanding what is getting in the way. Establish where your support is needed (information; clearing systemic blockages; skill; tangible assistance) and provide it.
- When problems arise, explore what may have caused them (not who) and possible solutions. Use a problem solving process such as GROW in a disciplined way (see http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_89.htm or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GROW_model ).
- Share information generously – all information that will help with the work, as well as information about your own work. The less people know about their work, their manager’s work and the company, the lower their perceptions of their manager and their company.
Given that we are now working in a world where teams will increasingly be working remotely from each other and from their manager, this is the perfect time for micromanagers to learn to let go of the need to constantly know what is going on (which is all about you and your insecurities) and focus on two really important things:
- Care for your people - they are all having a VERY stressful time (this article being written during the time of Covid-19) in both their personal AND their professional lives. They need to know you are in their corner and that you genuinely care.
- Satisfactory output and NOT perfect input - are they getting the work out well enough? This is not a time for constantly insisting on excellence - as honourable as that may be. This is a time for people to ask themselves "when is good enough good enough?"
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Of course, many new managers make the mistake of micro-managing their new teams in their zeal to demonstrate that they have it all under control. If you have a newly appointed manager in your team, check out this great online self-study programme that will help them to set things up right with their new teams: https://bit.ly/2NE1AqH
This article is based on the ideas of Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer as contained in their book “The Progress Principle”, published in 2011, Harvard Business Review Press).