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8 Signs of a Micro Manager (And How Not to Become One)

8 Signs of a Micro Manager (And How Not to Become One)

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.[1]

What do you get when you watch over everything?

Insecurity and inaction in your employees. An overwhelming volume of emails in your inbox.

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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),[2] which you can use to evaluate your team’s success at achieving key business objectives and reaching targets.
  • Implement Objectives and Key Results (OKRs),[3] 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.

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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.

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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.[4]

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.

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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

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Reference

More by this author

Nick Hargreaves

Nick is a serial entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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