Are You a Micromanager?

Nobody wants to be a micromanager, but when you’re new to leading a team, it’s an easy trap to fall into. The pressure to prove yourself to your direct reports while simultaneously delivering strong outcomes to the organization can sometimes result in an overly hands-on leadership style.

If you’re new to leading teams, and want to check in with yourself — and avoid micromanaging altogether — here are three reflection questions to help you identify, and stop, this behavior when it creeps into your interactions with your team.

  1. ARE YOU ALWAYS GIVING YOUR TEAM ‘ADVICE’?

How do you react when a team member approaches you with a non-urgent problem? Do you troubleshoot it with them? Or do you propose a solution, along with a list of action items they should execute to reach it? If it’s the latter, you might be verging on micromanagement.

The most obvious form of micromanagement involves telling people exactly how to do their jobs — a behavior that’s often justified as “giving advice.” This tendency is often driven by an underlying anxiety or fear. As a new leader, you’re now responsible for the performance of your team. If they fail, you fail, and likewise if they succeed. In response to this pressure, you may try to control the outcome of their work by handholding or overstepping when asked for basic advice.

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD:

While there’s nothing wrong with giving your team members advice in situations that truly require it — high-stakes projects, urgent issues or new processes that require more hands-on guidance — your goal should be to help people develop solutions on their own. Remember that people need to have their own experiences to learn, iterate and sharpen the skills necessary to do their jobs well.

When someone comes to you with a problem, push down your urge to explain how you would solve it. Instead, listen and repeat back what you hear: “It sounds like you’re having trouble with [X] because of [Y]. Does that sound right?”

Next, make sure you’re on the same page regarding your expectations. Restate the goal you want them to reach but let them figure out how to get there. You can do this by asking an open-ended question that encourages them to reflect: “What do you think would help you get past this roadblock?” or “What do you need to continue making progress?”

Remember: Even if you would approach the issue differently, don’t assume your approach is better. This doesn’t mean that you should let people fail on purpose. Rather, use your expertise to ask teaching-oriented questions that will help your direct reports think things through and discover how to improve their ideas. You can also support them by removing roadblocks or challenges unique to your positional power.

2. DO YOU NEED TO APPROVE EVERY DECISION YOUR TEAM MEMBERS MAKE?

Bottlenecking is another form of micromanagement, and it typically occurs when a manager needs to approve every action — big or small — that their team members make. It’s normal for some things, like highly visible projects, to require your input. But it’s a red flag if you’re asking people to consult you on daily tasks that they should be able to do autonomously.

There are consequences to this type of micromanagement.

First, it slows everyone down. Your direct reports can’t complete their work without your approval, and you’re constantly being pulled away from your own work to give it. Second, it lowers team morale. If your team doesn’t believe you’re confident in their ability to their jobs, it can impact their own self-confidence. Lastly, it hinders your growth as a manager. Instead of learning how to delegate and focusing on the soft skills you need to develop as a leader, you’re focusing too much on the same work you did as an individual contributor.

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD:

You can gut check yourself by doing an audit of how many team messages you’re cc’ed on. If you’re on every email thread and in every Slack channel just to give your nod of approval, you likely need a better process.

Ask yourself: What high-stakes items/tasks do I need to oversee or approve? What lower-stakes task/items can I delegate, hand off, or trust my team handle on their own?

Over time, this approach has mutual benefits. You’ll feel more comfortable delegating important tasks with less oversight, and your team members will feel more confidence in their ability to deliver.

3. DO YOU CONSIDER FEEDBACK A ONE-WAY STREET?

When you give feedback to your team members is it a one-way conversation? Do you lead with a couple of positive comments about their work, and then list out the many ways they can improve?

If this conversation sounds familiar, you might be micromanaging instead of helping.

This type of micromanagement can occur when a leader has rigid expectations of how the work should have been done. It’s driven by the often-false belief that: “If my team had done it my way, we would have reached an even better outcome.” Typically, this mindset results in feedback discussions that are one-sided, with the manager listing out various ways the employee could have done better. Even if the manager has good intentions, they risk coming off as overly controlling and demoralizing the person on the receiving end.

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD:

Don’t wait until a formal performance review to share feedback. You can make it a lot less scary by delivering feedback, both positive and critical, every day.

If someone gives a great presentation, send them a short note, recognizing the effort: “Great presentation this afternoon. You were clear, engaging, and really made an impact!”

When you see room for improvement, offer your support without tearing them down. After discussing what went well, initiate a two-way conversation around how they can grow in the future.

Likewise, if you have a chance to ask your team for feedback, show them that you value their opinions by seeking it out.

The goal is to create an environment in which your team trusts and seeks out your knowledge. By recognizing their strengths, seeking out their opinions and treating mistakes like learning opportunities, you can create an environment that feels empowering rather than discouraging.

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As a new leader, you have endless potential to do great things. Don’t get stuck in the mindset that “control” equates to success or power. Use these questions to check yourself and build a better approach as you navigate this new role and continue to develop your leadership style.

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