Save Our Ship or maybe Save Our Team

Micromanagement is a type of authoritarian leadership. Merriam-Webster defines micromanagement “as managing with excessive control or attention to details.” In general, this form of leadership is harmful. In a software or business environment, a micromanager closely controls the work of their subordinates. Closely observing how work is being done and providing explicit feedback to change the subordinate’s behavior to meet expectations generates control. The subordinate has little to no freedom of thought or action. While this might (and I stress might), be an acceptable leadership style when disarming a nuclear weapon, it DOES NOT make sense in the business environment. If it were rare, we could constrain the discussion to footnotes, yet this form of leadership is not rare.

For example, I recently observed several examples in an organization I am involved with. The most glaring example occurred during a leadership meeting in which the adoption of an agile framework was under consideration. The organization’s leaders directly tasked another leader to have their unit investigate a concept. After the decision, the leader went on to very specifically describe how to do the investigation, how to report the results and even provided a list of tasks to complete the investigation. The leader concluded with an admonition that the other leader should think outside the box but do the work as requested and report progress daily.

Later after the meeting, I discussed the events with the leader. He was not aware that he had fallen into the micromanagement trap. One of the most troubling attributes of micromanagement is that it is often difficult for the person using it to recognize it in themselves, but it is easy to identify and to despise when used by others. Even though he recognized the problem, because it was painful, he attempted to justify the behavior, by suggesting that without specific “requirements” the work wouldn’t meet his expectations.

Micromanagement is a tacit statement that those around us are not as smart or capable as we are. It could also be an admission that they do not have the big picture or information needed to guide their progress. It could be an admission that there is a belief that people are fungible resources; that they are cogs in the machine. L David Marquet in his book, Turn the Ship Around, calls this the leader-follower model (see the Re-read Saturday series discussing Turn the Ship Around to explore the book). Micromanagement is debilitating, it hurts leaders and followers.

The leader in our example is not a bad person. While in this case, they were being a bad leader, they did recognize the weakness and vowed to make changes. Reflecting on the micromanagement, I see that both in my career and personal life that I too had occasionally fallen into the micromanagement trap. Perhaps all of us carry the seed of micromanagement in us, which makes it critical to be able to recognize micromanagement when it happens both in others (easy) and in ourselves (hard) and to recognize the triggers of this type of behavior.

In this theme we will explore:

  1.      Observations on the Definition of Micromanagement
  2.      Causes of Micromanagement
  3.      Recognizing Micromanagement in Ourselves
  4.      Breaking The Cycle of Micromanagement