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Monday Quickie: Is micro-management a valid leadership style?

Posted by Simon Thiessen on 23-Feb-2015 16:57:00

leadership_style_-_is_micromanagement_OKHas anyone ever accused you of being a micro manager?

Do your people ever accuse you of being a micro-manager? If you are, is it something you should be concerned about or can you happily go on using that style because it is who you are and what you are most comfortable with?

Micro-management gets a bad wrap – but is this label just a quick way for people who don’t like being held accountable to make their manager look bad?

A quick check – do you do these things?

Micro-management is a management or leadership style in which the manager closely supervises, watches and even controls what the people in their team do.

A micro-manager will often:

  • Spend a lot of time giving very precise instructions
  • Checking the work that their people do – even if that work is fairly basic or routine
  • Not allow their people much (or any) discretion
  • Insist upon approving every decision

So - good, bad or indifferent?

It doesn’t sound like much fun working for a micro-manager (because you definitely work ‘for them’ and not ‘with them’).

However, the reality is that micro-management is a perfectly valid leadership style. When used sparingly. Under very specific circumstances. For very short periods of time.

Long term micro-management hurts everyone.

Why should you use micro-management sparingly?

Think about the consequences of this leadership style:

  • is_your_leadership_style_limiting_growth-013921-editedThe clear message that capable people in your team receive, whether you intend it or not, is that you don’t have confidence in them and that you don’t trust them
  • Your people never get to work as they really want to – they constantly feel like they are working with ‘the handbrake on’ and this impacts organisational climate and reduces discretionary effort
  • You end up so bogged down redoing the things someone else is paid to do, that you rarely have the opportunity to work on the big priorities – the things that would have a big impact on team productivity
  • Systems, decisions, processes, tasks all get bogged down in the bottleneck (you) because you can’t keep up with everything you are trying to control
  • For everyone working in this climate, productivity and satisfaction are reduced, stress and frustration are increased. If good people can't demonstrate their worth in your team, they eventually go somewhere they can

The exception: when micro-management is the right option

First point: it is never the right option as your default leadership style. If this is what you do out of habit or because you are most comfortable with it, you are overusing this style.

A simple reality for good leaders is that you should be selecting a leadership style based on the needs of the specific individual in the specific situation – not based on what feels best for you. Your leadership style should focus on the needs of the people you are leading, not on your own needs. This is the basis of conscious leadership.

Micro-management can work when you have a very inexperienced person in an unfamiliar circumstance. In that case, you might use this style to avoid ‘throwing them in the deep end’ – as a specifically selected strategy to give them some basic information and confidence before you give them more space.

If you decide on this approach, make sure you back off – quickly – as they develop confidence and skill.

The other times that you might manage things much more tightly are in a crisis or when the consequences of getting something wrong are diabolical (not just inconvenient).

Regardless of the circumstance sin which you decide that micro management is the appropriate option, make it a short term fix rather than a long term habit.

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photo credit: Puppeteer via photopin (license) photo credit: Byron from England via photopin (license)