You're the type of boss who has a niggling suspicion that your colleagues and employees can't do their jobs as well as you could. You spend your time obsessing over and implementing a project's minutiae, leaving little time and energy for higher-level problem-solving and decision-making. No meeting can take place unless you can attend; no assignment is complete until you've given it your seal of approval. Don't sugar-coat your ways using descriptors like "I just have an attention for detail," "I'm a doer, not a thinker," or "I like to oversee every aspect of a project to ensure quality." Admit it—you're a micromanager. And that ain't good.
"First, as a leader, you lose the ability to look ahead and direct strategy ... by being involved in all activities and decisions made by your team. This leaves your team dependent on you, creating a bottleneck that hampers performance and speed in decision-making," says Marcus Erb, senior consultant on workplace insights and analytics with Great Place to Work (www.greatplacetowork.com). "Second, from the employees' perspective, a lack of autonomy can undermine employees' belief that their leaders are credible or competent. Ultimately, it lowers employees' trust in their leader, which can correspond to lower performance and engagement of the team."
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Still, there are times when this much-maligned managerial style has its uses—as long as it's used sparingly. "Any leadership style, when overdone, can be negative," says Christine M. Riordan, dean and professor of management at Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. "Leaders today need to demonstrate many leadership styles, depending on the situation, and have the agility and ability to move into a style that is not naturally their own."
"Having attention to detail and being thorough and conscientious can be considered positive traits," Riordan continues. "However, when taken to the extreme and used in all situations, they can definitely be negative. In similar fashion, always focusing on strategic issues and never thinking about implementation issues can be negative as well."
All you meddlesome managers, breathe easy: Here are a few examples of when every boss should handle by hovering:
1. You have new employees. Even the most-qualified new hire will need some hand-holding when starting a job, and he or she probably wants you to be more involved in their day-to-day responsibilities than you would normally.
Just remember ... You should be training them on how to do their work and not doing their work for them. Otherwise they'll never be ready to handle tasks on their own.
2. Your team is trying something new and different. The delineation of duties gets easily blurred when you're working on something that's never been done and while everyone is learning.
Just remember ... Not every aspect of a new project is uncharted. Raise up out of the weeds and let the appropriate people handle self-explanatory assignments.
3. The progress (or the professional) is disappointing. If the work of others or the happiness of a client is compromised by someone's inadequacy, or if the overall objective is in jeopardy, you might have to intervene.
Just remember ... Recognize the difference between a slight setback and a colossal problem, and "resist the urge to jump in at the first sign of trouble and instead adopt a coaching approach with employees," Erb says. And, "as you work to get an initiative on track, it's also important to be watchful for when you can withdraw yourself and let a task member resume leadership," says John Beeson, principal with the management consulting firm Beeson Consulting, Inc (beesonconsultinginc.com).
4. The results are disappointing. It's necessary to troubleshoot when a project doesn't go as planned, and that could involve an assessment and reallocation of the roles of your team members.
Just remember ... The reason for poor results could have been poor planning, poor training, and even poor hiring, but it wasn't that you didn't do the job yourself. Carefully investigate the reason behind the mistakes, work to resolve them, and implement strategies to ensure they don't happen again.
Each of these are circumstances when micromanaging should only be temporary. But if you're habitually having trouble weaning yourself away from your employees' job descriptions, here are a few tips:
1. Hire and train well. Be careful to employ competent and self-sufficient employees. Even if those workers require a little hovering and hand-holding at first, they will soon prove capable of fulfilling and exceeding expectations.
2. Focus on results, not process. When Beeson coaches executives, he asks them to start thinking about the answers to two management questions: "The first question is where, as a manager, do I need to spend my time and focus my energies, and what are the issues and priorities where I can add the greatest value?" he says. "No. 2 is what skills and expertise do I need on my team so that I can focus on my goals?"
3. Delegate. Distribute responsibilities, then force yourself to step back. "Make two key adjustments to your natural tendencies. First, resist the urge to jump in at the first sign of trouble and instead adopt a coaching approach with employees. Second, let go of the need for your employees to be exact replicas of you," Erb says. "As long as they're achieving the end results you specify, trust how they choose to get the work done."
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4. Communicate. Use your attention for detail and perfectionist tendencies to be clear with your team about who is accountable for tasks, plus what the individual and broad goals are.
5. Set benchmarks. "Some leaders, often labeled as micromanagers, may have a high need for information and/or their position requires them to have details," Riordan says. "So, one additional step is that the supervisor can simply ask that his or her subordinate provide regular communications on the progress. Often what is perceived as micromanagement is simply a need for additional information on the progress of an issue."
"Agree on the milestones," Beeson adds. "Tell people what the issues are that you're particularly concerned about where you want them to communicate to you."
Corrected on 01/24/2013: A previous version of this story misstated the name of Marcus Erb’s company. He is senior consultant on workplace insights and analytics for Great Place to Work.