Five key reasons why some managers micromanage

May 10, 2011

Imagine this situation. You’re a manager and this happens:

– You feel your blood pressure rising.

– You start to use your “stress response voice” as you try to keep it together.

– You dive into deep detail mode, even though your real job is to manage an entire company, division, department or project.

– You reach for the red pen, mouse, steering wheel, or other implements of control in your work world.

What happened in this imaginary circumstance that’s so terrible?

You delegated.

Someone failed.

They did the assigned task the “wrong” way, at least in your eyes. (And remember that sometimes failure is real, but often it’s subjective. And ultimately, the definition of success depends on what customers will support).

And so, here you are, in cleanup, do-it-yourself mode, rescuing yet another person, project or team.

But wait…

Is it possible the failure is yours?

Is it possible that, as the person in charge, you did one or more of the following things?

Perhaps you:

– Under-led.

– Under-inspired.

– Under-defined and communicated customers’ criteria for success.

– Under-planned the way your team could reach the target best.

– Under-taught the skills that were needed to get the job done most easily.

– Under-monitored progress and work quality while the work was underway.

These are a few reasons that might have happened:

1.  You like to be the hero.

In this way – by deep diving into the detail – you get to seem to be the hero, again and again.

Maybe you like the role of rescuer, but you just don’t realize how other people see it.

They may see that you’re just getting in the way, rather than that you’re saving the day.

Perhaps it’s a matter of redefining what a rescuer is.

Taking the long view, a rescuer and a real leader is someone who takes whatever situation they have, and
makes it better now, as well as for the long-run.

Focus on creating a reliable system of processes, skills, tools and measures that enables your team to
consistently produce a great outcome.

That’s when you’ll really be the hero.

2. You do a better job of reacting to what’s wrong than facing the challenge of creating a system to do things right, consistently.

Some people are better critics than managers and leaders.

It’s just a fact.

They’re more comfortable finding what’s wrong in others’ work than taking the risk of possibly being wrong, themselves, when they face the unknowns of leadership.

Consider if that might be the case for you, if micromanagement is a management mode you slip into easily.

3. You were never taught to be a good or great leader.

Maybe you weren’t taught, coached or mentored, yourself, to learn to do the job you have well.

Maybe you jumped into leadership before you were fully prepared for it.

Frankly, that’s often the case.

The all-too-frequent scenario is that somebody needs to have someone manage something.

And somebody else really wants new responsibility, status and pay…and may even think that “management doesn’t look that hard.”

And so a “match” is made.

But it’s not a match made in heaven because the new manager or leader was not well-prepared to succeed.

Maybe you’d still like training, guidance or mentoring, yourself, even if you’ve been in management for a while.

If you have a tendency toward micromanagement, this possibility is one you should seriously consider.

4. You really like the work that you supervise more than you like the work of being the supervisor or leader.

In this case, maybe micromanaging is the way for you to get back into the detail of what you really like to do best.

Maybe becoming a manager or leader wasn’t your idea…at all.

Maybe you miss the front lines of action.

Some people are promoted into positions of greater leadership because they show such strength in their individual roles that, as one theory goes, they’re eventually promoted to a level that’s greater than what they’re good at.

Could this be the case for you?

Were you, in fact, happier at an earlier point in your career?

It’s just something to consider.

5. Diving into detail is a way to cover up the insecurity you feel about the unpredictability of trying to plan and create a better future.

Micromanagement may be like a comfortable old blanket you pull over you as you try to cover up, or ease, your own insecurity.

Sometimes people are afraid of these, and other things, when they become leaders:

– That they’ll be passed by a strong subordinate. They’re afraid to let others really stretch and grow, taking on greater responsibility…
which means taking on even more responsibility, themselves.

– They can’t easily share the spotlight, applause, and stage of leadership.

– They’re afraid they’re a failure if they don’t have the answer to every question.

– They don’t realize they don’t have to know everything…nor can they.

– They haven’t learned that strength is sometimes strongest when it’s shared…that the web of interlocking strengths of a team can be a very powerful thing.

Whatever the case, if you have tendencies toward micromanagement, take some time to figure out how, and when this happens most consistently.

Take actions to reduce the need to reach for that red pen, and to dive deeply into the detail.

Instead build your comfort and strength in planning, strategizing, creating systems to enable your team to succeed, consistently.

Teach your team to be able to handle more detail and responsibility on their own.

Teach them to count on more, and higher level support from you.

Let yourself be the leader you were meant to be.

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