Four Signs that you’re a Micromanager (and How to Fix them)

No one likes to be labelled a micromanager. The connotations are never positive, not to mention that if you are a micromanager, you’re not setting your team (or yourself) up for success in the long term.

The thing is, even if you’re not a full-on micromanager, you may have some micromanagement tendencies. So below, we’re going to look at a few telltale signs that you’re either a micromanager or can display behaviours occasionally that turn you into one occasionally. 

We’ll also talk about how to overcome these problems and be a better, more effective manager.

You struggle to delegate

In my opinion, the ability to delegate effectively is a very underrated skill, especially for a manager. In the context of micromanagement, the inability to delegate can be very damaging to your team, leading to consequences such as a lack of trust and a lack of progression.

Whilst it may be unintentional, not delegating effectively to your team can lead to a feeling of micromanagement because you’re essentially keeping hold of important work and looking after it yourself rather than giving it to your team. This is why delegation isn’t an obvious sign of micromanagement – you’re basically micromanaging the work, rather than the individuals in your team, so it doesn’t feel like micromanagement. But the overarching effect and feeling that it can cause in your team is one of micromanagement.

How to overcome ineffective delegation

Fortunately, I’ve written about this topic at length and you can lean how to be an effective delegator by reading both of these articles:

Have more questions? Just reply to this email with them and I’ll get back to you.

You need to see every step of a process

Whether it’s a project that one of your team is working on or a single piece of work, you need to stay very close to it and be involved at all times. For example, if one of your team is working with a client to deliver a strategy, you need to be involved in every aspect of that strategy, from the research to the brainstorming to the objective setting – you can’t step away from it.

Of course, this may be an important piece of work for an important client, but do you really need to be involved in every aspect of the work? Is your team member really not capable of doing this work on their own and then just checking in with you every so often?

If you are very involved in day-to-day work, whilst having a capable team, you need to reflect on these kinds of questions and see if you’re a little too close, to the point of micromanagement.

How to overcome being too close to day-to-day work

This is one that I see most managers struggle with, so I’m not going to lie and say that overcoming this challenge is easy. But you can try a few things here to get better at it.

One idea is to brief the piece of work and then clearly give points at which you’ll check back in during the process. Sticking with the example above of delivering a strategy, you could define milestones within the delivery of this work, such as the completion of key research points or check in meetings with the client and these are the only times that you’ll get hands on with the work.

Another idea is to make it clear that you’re available to your team if they need help, but also be clear that if they don’t ask for it, you’re going to assume that everything is going well. This requires you to be disciplined and to stay away unless needed, but you’re setting very clear boundaries and expectations with your team which can keep micromanagement at bay.

You focus more on the process than the outcome

A key part of managing a team effectively is to be clear on what success looks like at the end of a process or project. It may be to positively influence some KPIs or it may be the successful delivery of an audit document or design. Whatever it is, you need to be clear what a good outcome looks like and then let your team figure out how best to get to this outcome.

A micromanager may actually do this and specify what a good outcome looks like, but they end up actually caring far more about the steps and process to get to that outcome, than the outcome itself. This can manifest itself by wanting the process done a certain way (often, their way) and not wanting their team to deviate from the process or steps that have been followed before. 

Now, processes are important and they can play an important role in maintaining standards and avoiding common mistakes. But they shouldn’t be used to the detriment of a successful outcome. 

How to overcome focusing on a process rather than an outcome

This one is actually not that complicated, but takes focus and discipline.

The key thing to do here is relentlessly focus on the outcome and be super, super clear what success looks like. By all means, give the team some help and direction on how they may get there and encourage the use of tried and tested processes, but then step back. When you check in with them, don’t ask about the process, ask them whether they are likely to succeed in getting to the outcome that they want. If yes, great, if no, ask why and get them back on track.

You don’t deal with failure very well

This one may go quite deep and it’s beyond the scope of this piece to get there, but it’s also an important sign that you need to be aware of. Essentially, if you’re someone who doesn’t deal with failure very well, then you’re much more likely to keep a very tight control over all aspects of your team and the projects that they work on.

For example, if you’re worried about a particular project failing, you’re going to want to stay close to it and stay hands on because this makes you feel like it is more likely to succeed as a result of your involvement.

Now, even if it’s true that you bring skills and experience that make a project more likely to succeed, you need to be aware of the consequences. The most obvious consequence is that, even if you don’t intend it, they will feel micromanaged.

Your own fear of failure will lead to an outcome that can limit your team and it’s progression in the long run.

How to overcome a fear of failure

As I mentioned, this can be a bit deeper rooted in your psychology than the scope of this piece allows, but fundamentally, if you feel that this may apply to you, there are some simple things that you can try.

The main thing is to reframe success as something which isn’t completely reliant upon you. Succeeding on a project is a team effort and if you’re a single point of failure or success, then you’re not a team. Ironically, you’re failing as a leader and manager if success of a project hangs on your shoulders.

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