Straight talk to the micromanaging boss

You might be the reason you’ve got to micromanage an employee in the first place

Much has been written and said about micromanagement. If you are a leader with much experience, you have probably found yourself doing it — dealing with employee complaints about a micromanaging boss or watching your senior leaders do it to the staff that report to them.

There are instances when good employees are micromanaged by insecure and inexperienced leaders. But other times, micromanagement persists because the employee is genuinely not meeting performance requirements.

Most people I’ve known who are chronic micromanagers do not realize that they do it. Over time, the behavior can become regularized into a “style” and written off as something else more noble, like being “hands on” or “collaborative.” The truth is, micromanaging is an undisciplined and unsustainable leadership behavior. It robs employees of the freedom that is required to be creative and gain ownership from their work. It lowers morale and the standards of performance in the organization, as employees who are not meeting expectations get more and more negative about their work experience every day. And it kills the productivity and credibility of the micromanaging leader.

With all of the adverse effects of micromanagement, how could it remain such a constant challenge in the work place? Easy. Because the road out of micromanagement is accountability. And for some managers, holding employees accountable is a more daunting task than doing an employee’s work for them, reassigning their tasks and hovering over them at the risk of their own careers and health. To avoid difficult conversations, they often make martyrs out of themselves, spending long hours doing the work of their people. They complain about them on the side and rarely, if ever, realize that they are enabling a situation they alone can remedy.

If you are in a situation where you find yourself in a prolonged period of micromanaging an employee, realize they are not causing the problem. There is a crisis of confidence happening. A lack of confidence in the employee, most certainly. But there is a lack of confidence in you that is allowing the situation to continue. You don’t have time for it. And you have to be brave. Your job is to set the standard and look at outcomes. When that standard is continually unmet, you have to move to address it as a performance issue and, in all cases, be supportive, kind, clear and appropriate as you move forward. There are a lot of things you can do to help a person get in the right seat on the bus or help find a better bus for them altogether. In all things, be kind to them and be kind to yourself.

Do not hover over people. Do not take on the work your people should be doing. Be nice. Be kind. Be supportive. Be patient. Show empathy. Realize sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. Not holding people accountable lets the sickness progress. The choice, as always, is yours.

Daniel Flowers is president and CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank