Not all managers who micromanage are intentionally bad. I think it’s also worth noting that not all micromanagers want to be that way. Like you and I, micromanagers usually have the best intentions—to succeed or finish a project well—but their management style often drives people crazy and causes them high stress levels.
There are mainly two types of management styles: hands-off and hands-on.
In the simplest words, hands-off managers give their employees autonomy, while hands-on managers involve themselves in the daily tasks and activities of their people.
Excellent hands-on managers significantly change their team’s lives and careers through the inspiration, motivation, and constant and meaningful feedback they impart.
This isn’t always the case, though. Even the best hands-on managers are prone to falling into the micromanagement trap.
Merriam-Webster defines micromanagement as the act of managing with excessive control or attention to details. When you micromanage, you observe the work of your employees closely without letting the smallest of details pass.
Micromanaging is one of the most harmful and unhealthy habits a manager can have. It’s a barrier to scaling. If you genuinely want your business and your team to grow, you must teach your people to handle responsibilities and take control.
How do you know if you’re a micromanager? Let’s look at these eight micromanagement signs along with steps on how to turn that around.
What are the signs of a micromanager? You’ll know you’re one if these signs describe your management style:
1. You Want to Be CC’d on Everything.
Your inbox is full of cc’d conversations about even the most minor details.
Asking to be copied on emails may seem harmless to you, but it tells your employees that you’re looking over their shoulders. Monitoring their every move may hurt the team’s workflow—and studies prove this.
“Choking Under Pressure: Multiple Routes to Skill Failure” published in the American Journal of Experimental Psychology shows that employees who believe they are being watched tend to perform at a lower level.
What do you get when you watch over everything?
Insecurity and inaction in your employees. An overwhelming volume of emails in your inbox.
Turn it around:
If you’re after maintaining a high quality of email exchanges, teach your team email etiquette. Eventually, trust them to handle their email threads on their own.
For emails where your feedback or approval is not directly or urgently needed, tell your employees that you no longer need to be copied in them. (Again, trust them to handle their email threads on their own!)
2. You’re Afraid of Losing Control.
Taking #1 further, you constantly feel the urge to check in on your employees’ progress and what they’re doing.
You want everything done your way, you always have standards set before anyone can say a word, or you always have exact and step-by-step instructions.
As a manager, it is reasonable to monitor your team’s progress and make sure everything is going well, especially after you’ve delegated a task. However, you should remember that everything has its limits.
Micromanagement stifles your team’s creativity, communication, and self-development.
Turn it around:
There are smarter ways to check up on a task’s progress without micromanaging:
- Request for weekly or monthly reports of accomplishments, development, and challenges met.
- Set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which you can use to evaluate your team’s success at achieving key business objectives and reaching targets.
- Implement Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), which is a simple goal system used by Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other big-name companies to help everyone on the team see progress towards common goals.
3. You Do Work That Isn’t Yours.
When you think everyone in your team is an underperformer, there’s a big chance you’re a micromanager.
Micromanagers usually follow the 120% rule: unless a person is better than they are at a task—120% better—then that’s the only time they can ever delegate that task.
That could mean NOTHING ever really gets delegated. They often think: “Why should I delegate this task if I’m going to do it better?”
The result: good employees stop taking the initiative or just leave altogether.
Turn it around:
It comes down to a trust issue. You don’t delegate because you don’t trust your team to finish the work and finish it well.
As a first step, start delegating smaller tasks. Depending on their performance and outputs, level up their responsibility so they can grow with you.
Replace the 120% rule with the 70% rule—if someone can do a job 70% as good as you can, delegate it to them. Assist them throughout the task and give them all the information they need, but let them take control. In this way, you get 70% of the output using almost none of your time.
You have to trust that your employees will complete the work you have assigned them. Show them that you have confidence in their skills and ability to do the job.
Remember this: delegating benefits both you and your team.
When you delegate tasks, you allow your team to grow and improve. When you delegate tasks, you give yourself more time to focus on your most vital business activities.
You can learn more about how to delegate here: How to Delegate Work Effectively (Step-By-Step Guide)
4. You Discourage Independent Decision-Making.
You don’t like it when an employee decides without your input or opinion—even if that decision was within the employee’s level of expertise.
Other micromanagers go as far as wanting to solve every problem themselves!
When you discourage your people from deciding on their own, you deter people from taking responsibility, and you limit their capacity to grow. You undermine your employees’ trust in their own judgement.
While it is crucial to ensure that decisions—especially significant and critical ones—are made well, you have to give your people the autonomy they deserve.
Turn it around:
Take a few steps back and let them find their way. It can be hard to do at first, but it makes sense: if a person was hired to do a specific job, you should let them shine in that area. What you can do is to make yourself approachable for when they have questions and trust that they will come to you when they need your guidance.
If you think they can solve a problem without your help, send them away and motivate them to find their way.
5. You Talk the Most at Every Meeting.
You have these three habits when in meetings:
- You often call a meeting to read a long list of tasks, announcements, and decisions (no objections or questions entertained!).
- You often call (or attend) meetings to make sure you get their points across (even if your presence isn’t required).
- You require all employees to attend meetings, whether the topic is relevant to them or not.
What isn’t healthy with this habit is that, in the long run, this will waste precious time, bring about confusion, diminish the team’s efficiency, and ultimately, make the people feel as if their inputs aren’t valued.
Turn it around:
Don’t keep the mic to yourself. Let your employees speak up.
It would be helpful to conceptualize new meeting procedures that encourage your employees to join the discussion. Have your employees do their status reports where they will give updates as to their progress on various projects.
And as a reminder, the Cambridge dictionary defines the word “meeting” as “a planned occasion when people come together to discuss something”.
Don’t do all the talking; value your employees’ contributions and get them involved in the meeting.
6. You Dictate Everything.
When you LOVE to give exact directions on how to complete a task, you might be a micromanager.
Micromanagers give detailed and step-by-step instructions for all tasks, even for the simplest ones.
It is natural for leaders to give sufficient directions to make sure that the job gets done right. However, detailing every single step hinders your employees from experimenting or getting creative with how they accomplish their tasks. The last thing you’d want to have on your team are robots who don’t think on their own and wait for your instructions.
Here’s what’s worse: these employees are bound to feel less engaged with their work as time goes on. According to Gallup, disengaged employees cost US companies somewhere between $450 billion and $550 every single year.
Turn it around:
Always give the “what”, not the “how”.
Sharing expectations about a deliverable is far different from dictating how to get that result.
Be clear on what the desired outcome looks like. Share with your people your vision, and then ask them about how to get there. As they figure out their strategy and manage their tasks, provide the resources, information, and support that they need to accomplish that vision. Most importantly, give credit where it is due.
As your employees explore, they could make small mistakes now and then. And that’s okay. You will eventually realize that these small losses are shaping up and preparing your team to handle bigger responsibilities and tackle bigger goals.
7. You Expect Regular Reports.
Another habit of micromanagers is that they follow up on their team’s tasks and progress now and then.
They are busy with monitoring the progress of each employee and course-correcting them. These employees, on the other hand, have to constantly create progress reports or email updates to explain their every move and decision.
Asking for constant—and often needless—progress reports can cause significant damage to your team’s motivation and morale:
- Your employees will feel like someone’s always watching their work, ready to criticize their every move.
- You discourage independent work and decision-making as you scrutinize everything and pinpoint every mistake.
- You damage your employees’ trust in you and the higher-ups.
- You make yourself and your team prioritize the wrong things.
- You put yourself and your team at risk of burnout.
Turn it around:
Give your employees the autonomy they need.
Ask your team’s input on the most effective ways for everyone to monitor each other’s progress without you being over-controlling. Outline this new approach and stick to it — set boundaries as to when your employees should bring you in on a project.
Remember, employees who enjoy autonomy in their job produce better work and express greater satisfaction. Consequently, they become more driven and more engaged in their roles.
8. Your Team Has a Consistently High Turnover.
If you have noticed a disturbing trend of people leaving after less than two years of work, it may be high time to review your management style. While the issue could be with them, there’s also a possibility that it’s because of how you manage them.
Aside from great pay and benefits, employees want to work at a place where they can grow and where they feel that their ideas are valued.
Before your employees get annoyed or disempowered by your micromanagement, you have to take action—take care of your employees and let go of the reins.
Turn it around:
Ask yourself: are you offering support or judgement?
It’s easy to be so caught up in the details, the standards, the day-to-day activities, and the processes, but do you take time to invest in your people?
As I have said earlier, not all micromanagers are necessarily “evil”. Sometimes, micromanagers manage the way they do because they have a genuine investment in the team’s success.
It’s just that they have to use their time and effort to lead the people instead of managing and being overbearing.
It’s Never Too Late to Change!
The good news is that it’s never too late to change. Work on reviewing your management style, ask genuine feedback from your staff and take action to implement the necessary changes.
It’s not going to be an overnight transition, but what’s important is that you start and take one step at a time.
Here’s a Steve Jobs quote that’s a great reminder for us all, micromanagers or not:
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
More About Leadership
Featured photo credit: Thomas Drouault via unsplash.com