How/Why it begins?
Micromanagement is a the result of a deeper rooted issue where there is a lack in leadership development. We all start as some sort of hands-on technician doing a ground-level job. We get better over time and are asked to train another based on our skills. Then as we become good one-on-one trainers, we may be asked to be a lead technician or run a crew of technicians. We are still hands-on doing the job. After we prove ourselves here, we are asked to move up and lead a team of people or an office of some sorts.
Up to this point we were trained very well by a great technician (like ourselves) and then proven our ability and promoted based on technical skills. There was never an assessment or determination of whether we were people-leaders. We were promoted by those who came before us and were solid boots-on-the-ground technicians too. Some companies give a basic managerial on-boarding focused on performance reports and other basic HR functions; however, there is never any real leadership training. We are left to our own devices to “sink or swim.”
Those going from technicians to people leaders are likely to fall into two categories to some extent: micromanaging or black and white enforcers. We know how the job should be done and since we do not know how to “lead” the team, we get into the weeds and critique individual job performance (aka micromanage). The other pitfall is to become a compliance-centric leader where we are determined to ensure the team is compliant with the letter of the law. However, most once-great technicians become micromanagers. These people tend to get basic results at the expense of the team’s morale and will be promoted. They now equate their “leadership style” as the reason for success and will modify and adapt this to fit their new role.
How to deal?
Dealing with a micromanager is often a simple conversation. They are results oriented and want to get the most out of each person. By understanding this, you can share with them how you are being held back by their micromanagement. Ask them what they need from you. Do they need a constant flow of information? Do they feel the need to ensure the quality of the product themselves? What is their overall need. Then create a plan to feed the need and to give you some breathing room. Maybe it is something as simple as weekly check-ins with progress on the project with an agreement to let them know of any major issues out of cycle.
Asking them to tell you your limits is like painting the lane lines on a road. You agree to stay within this lane and will consult with them if you encounter the edge. Then ensure there are routine discussions and hold each other accountable. Some bosses have even worked out code words with their teams to let them know when they are starting to micromanage. Understand that this is a learning process for you both and over time trust will be earned and your lane will widen.
What if you are one?
There are a couple key ways to determine if you are a micromanager yourself. One way to tell is if you feel the constant need to be in the middle of decisions that you used to make when you were in their shoes. The other major sign is that your team is waiting for you to inspect or approve of their work before they are able to move on to the next step.
If you find yourself in one of these categories, own it. Tell your team you are struggling with this and ask them one-on-one what decisions they feel comfortable making on their own. Create those lanes on the road that you and your team member feels comfortable with. Let them know when you expect certain updates and what decisions you need to be a part of. This conversation will gain you instant respect.