It was Louis V. Gerstner, former chairman of IBM, who said “people don’t do what you expect but what you inspect.” By this, the astute businessman who “thought the American multinational technology company to dance” before exiting in 2002, counsels managers to regularly get updates from their subordinates to ensure that they remain on the same page with them on whatever projects they are handling.
However, this has been stretched to the extreme by some managers who engage in micromanagement.
Micromanagement, the antithesis of delegation, has been described as “giving subordinates a project but checking on the progress frequently, offering many ‘helpful’ suggestions, and leaving them with the clear impression that you could do it better and faster.”
Experts are agreed that micromanagement is the wrong route to take in leadership because it deprives the leader of the opportunity to mind what really matters.
A leader should ordinarily look at the big picture and allow his subordinates to handle sectional or departmental matters. But when a leader concerns himself with issues that should be handled by subordinates it is suggestive of lack of confidence in the subordinates’ competence.
Unfortunately, this is a pointer to a problem with the manager rather than the subordinates.
One of the basic responsibilities of a leader is to raise other leaders, not followers. It is his duty to develop people with capacity for independent thinking, not those who will eternally be tied to his apron string. It is leadership failure if nothing gets done without the leader. If a leader lacks confidence in the ability of subordinates to run the show without his input, it is an admission of his failure to recruit the right persons or his inability to develop leadership skills in his subordinates.
Commenting on this, Lee Iacocca, former president of Chrysler Motors, said, “I am a strong believer in letting line operations ‘operate’ – delegating to good people and then letting them do the job. But, you might ask, if the key managers are running the business, what’s left for the CEO to do?
“I think a big part of my job is what I call ‘defining the envelope’ or setting the limits within which line management can operate on a relatively freewheeling basis. It’s similar to a parent telling a child: ‘Play in the backyard but don’t go past the gate and don’t climb over the fence and don’t invite anyone over.’ The child has the run of the yard, but the parent has prescribed limits on where he can go and what he can do.”
Similarly, Theodore Roosevelt, a former American president, said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
Causes of micromanagement
Some factors give rise to micromanagement. Here are a few of them.
Fear of being supplanted
Some managers, despite taking the pains to hire great talents, stand in the way of the talents to give the company their best because they believe that allowing the subordinates to display their skills will jeopardize their position in the company.
But nothing can be farther from the truth. One thing that top management will always appreciate in a manager is the ability to spot great talents and allowing them to function optimally for the good of the company. So, failing to delegate for fear of being supplanted by a subordinate is against the interest of the manager.
The urge to always be in control
Those who practise micromanagement are plagued by the fear that ‘everything that can go wrong will eventually go wrong.’ So, to prevent anything going wrong, they adopt the system of controlling everybody and everything.
But this is contrary to the counsel of Derek Lidow in his book, Startup Leadership: How Savvy Entrepreneurs Turn Their Ideas Into Successful Enterprises, where he says “Entrepreneurial leaders foster in people the feeling that they are personally successful – the hallmark of leadership.”
So, instead of going about believing that subordinates are out to frustrate him, a leader should give them the feeling of importance by assigning to them roles that will bring out the best in them.
Feeling of indispensability
Micromanagers operate under the illusion of being indispensable. They fail to delegate so as to amplify their contribution. This gives them a sense of security because they believe that with the quantum of activities they are engaged in, top management will consider them indispensable.
Fear of missing the target
A manager may be driven into micromanagement by the fear of missing target set by the leadership of the company. He knows that as the head of his department, he gets the knocks for missing the target. This may force him into wanting to be sure that everything is okay as a way of ensuring that he keeps his job.
But as observed by Simon Sinek in Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, that style is counterproductive. Sinek notes, “When a leader embraces their responsibility to care for people instead of caring for numbers, then people will follow, solve problems and see to it that that leader’s vision comes to life the right way, a stable way and not the expedient way.”
Promotion beyond competence level
Another cause of micromanagement is when a manager is promoted beyond his level of competence. This is what Lawrence J. Peter and Raymond Hull call “The Peter Principle” in their book of the same title. Anyone in leadership position who fails to delegate has failed the most basic test of leadership and is undeserving of the position.
Effects of micromanagement
Every action has its consequences. Opting for micromanagement has its effects. Here are some of them.
Micromanagement is a centralized type of management and the major downside of it is that it slows down the decision making process. Everybody and everything waits for the big boss. Nothing gets down until the manager gives his assent and consent. It slows down response time to the customer because the manager has to sanction every action. It stifles creativity and innovation because employees are not allowed to give vent to their energies which slows down a company’s progress.
It breeds disaffection in the system because employees won’t be sufficiently engaged since the manager wants to hold on to as many of the tasks as possible. When employees are emotionally disconnected from the workplace because of the attitude of the manager, they are less likely to be productive and this will have a telling effect on the company’s fortune.
Stalls manager’s promotion
If a manager creates an impression that his subordinates are unfit to step into his shoes, he runs the risk of getting stuck where he is because his boss will be unwilling to move him away from the position since getting a replacement may turn out to be a serious challenge. So, a leader that does not allow his subordinates to grow by learning to do is inadvertently doing himself in because his own progress will also be stunted.
Avoiding micromanagement pitfall
To avoid the snare of micromanagement, a leader needs to do the following.
See every member of staff as a contributor
The leader has to move from seeing his subordinates as unable to take on responsibility and begin to see each of them as a contributor. Once a leader changes his perspective about his subordinates, his attitude towards them will also change. He will be willing to assign duties to them and trust them to effectively execute same.
Jettison the ‘I know it all’ syndrome
The leader should shed the ‘I know it all’ toga. Many of those who are given to micromanagement are perfectionists who are so fastidious that they believe no one but them can do a perfect job, so they opt to do by themselves what they ought to assign to others. So, dropping the belief that no one else can perform a task as much as oneself is a step in defeating micromanagement.
Bringing out the best out of staff
Rather than seeing his subordinates as incompetent and unworthy of his trust, the leader should do all he can to bring out the best out of his subordinates by doing the following.
Clear communication of expectations
Most workers want to do the right thing but are hampered by the failure of the leadership to unambiguously tell them what is expected of them. Until expectations are clearly communicated to subordinates, they will continue to perform below expectation.
Clear communication of value
Some managers leave their staff confused because of the inconsistency in their standards. Subordinates look up to the leader for direction. So, rather than leaving the subordinates to conjecture how the leader wants what he wants, it is best for both parties that the leader unequivocally communicates his value to the subordinates.
Clear communication of readiness to assist
The leader must also communicate his willingness to help when necessary. He should make it abundantly clear to the subordinate not to leave any challenge he may encounter till it is too late. Knowing that his manager is not out to magnify his faults but rather to assist him achieve his task will boost the employee’s confidence and increase his productivity.
Be your subordinates’ cheer leader
Subordinates look up to their bosses for encouragement. They secretly yearn for it. So, if the leader should openly praise his staff, it will spur them to go to any length to ensure the success of the leader and the task at hand. They will work out their hearts and guard against the leader’s interest being jeopardized.