An often overused and misunderstood term used to describe a bad boss, micromanagement is more about the creation of impediments than it is the bosses’ personality or temperament. In order to recognize what is a personal bias toward someone from a genuine, micro-managerial impediment that subtracts value from an organization, we need to understand it. According to My Way or the Highway by Harry Chambers, micromanagement is “the perception of inappropriate interference in someone else’s activities, responsibilities, decision making, and authority. It can also be any activity that creates interference with process, policies, systems and procedures. Basically, micromanagement is the excessive, unwanted, counterproductive interference and disruption of people or things”. Just because you do not like your bosses’ decisions, you disagree with your boss, or your bosses’ general demeanor is unprofessional does not mean he or she is a micromanager.
I’ve heard time and time again people use the term in opposition of a boss they don’t like. As a leader, you must also understand the characteristics of a micromanager and learn to know when you are drifting out of your lane. I’ve drifted out of my lane. One instance that comes to mind was the time I had recently been moved to an aircraft maintenance management position. Rather than going through my subordinate to get a task done, I went ‘straight to the bottom’, talking directly with the technicians about a tasking, impeding the actions of my subordinate and the game plan he had already established. Once my subordinate caught up with me, he tactfully told me that allocating the people was his job and that setting priorities and tracking our progress in light of the bigger picture were mine—I had nearly screwed up his well-laid plans by bypassing him—he told me to ‘stay in my lane’, and he was absolutely correct. He had already began setting into motion all the directions I had planned for the day and he just hadn’t communicated that to me yet. I had crossed into micromanagement territory. I had interfered with my subordinate’s processes and responsibilities because I feared the task wouldn’t be completed in a timely fashion.
Leaders often use the fear of making mistakes or incurring a negative outcome to a situation to employ micro managerial measures. Instead of simply ensuring subordinates know what they need to do and give them the freedom to get the job done, additional measures to ensure that those things are done are employed, even if it means we as leaders must personally lay our hands on everything. This creates an atmosphere of distrust; our subordinates can perceive we do not trust them to do their jobs or that they are believed to be incompetent. Another adverse effect this has is how controlled we make the environment. We provide no latitude for decision making or creative thinking, leading the way to low morale, diminished initiative, reduced job satisfaction, and an increase in resentment. In turn, micromanagement discourages innovation or abstract thinking, leaving any and all decision making in the hands of the very same leaders that seek to control the details of their subordinate’s work and creating information bottlenecks.
It is tough to take the blow-back stemming from a failure or a mistake. We as leaders need to also remember that mistakes are what allow us to grow and learn, teach others and even provide us indicators for areas of improvement. The toughest part about not being involved so close to the action once you become responsible for the actions of others is resisting the urge to jump back into the work of your subordinates and guiding their every move. ‘Stay in your lane’ and give your subordinates the room to use their training and expertise. Give them what they need for their job to succeed, stay informed, and make adjustments to the plans when needed. You might be surprised with the solutions they are able to implement.
“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” – Gen. George S. Patton