Micromanagement is almost universally viewed as a poor management practice when it is recognized. Micromanagement rather than addressing the root cause of having to be directly involved in getting work done makes the problem worse!  The problem is that there is no single cause. Some of the most pernicious causes include:

Technician Syndrome occurs when leaders fear shifting way away from or giving up an operational role that made them successful. The words technical construes that their technical acumen is more important than their strategic or people skills.  Technical leaders must learn to transition from an operational role where they execute specific technical roles to the strategic role, which requires the leader to trust their subordinates and to foster a free flow of information so their subordinates can do their jobs.

This is a very common scenario in technical professions (of all sorts). Technical personnel are often required to spend large amounts of time and effort to learn their job and/or to certify. If you need evidence, a quick tour through LinkedIn reviewing the initials behind people’s names will prove the point. The effort required to generate those initials generates an impetus to hold on to the evidence of that investment and to showcase it. I suffered from this syndrome for many years which hurt my career until I learned to break the behavior.

Communication as a Zero-Sum Game Syndrome occurs when information is view as a limited resource. Information in this scenario becomes a currency used to broker favors, agreements, and support. This syndrome causes leaders to hold information close to their vest keeping those doing the work from having the big picture or at least a frame of reference to make the right decisions.

During a period of economic contraction very early in my career, a mentor suggested that I hold information close my vest and use the information to become a guru. I was an individual performer. The advice was valuable in the short run and kept me out of the way of the layoff axe. However, if I had continued leveraging the tactic it would have been short-sighted. Viewing communication as a zero-sum game weakens the ability of those around the leaders to contribute to the success of the organization and/or the leaders because when starved for information. [WHAT?] Remember, starving people of information will cause people to create their own realities.

Cogs in the Machine Syndrome is a reflection of leaders or organizations that view employees as fungible resources. Replacing a unit with more efficient units makes logical sense (that is why I replace my spark plugs). For example, I overheard a conversation in an elevator in which a person with an expensive suit stated that based on the change in architecture, the firm would have to replace their current workforce. Organizations that view people as cogs in the machine will be apt to feel they have to micromanage resources since their competence will always be questioned. The lack of personnel linkage between resources and leader reinforces as we-they attitude. Note: I am using the term ‘resource’ to highlight the barrier between leader and subordinate. Organizations that fall prey to this syndrome will reinforce the need to micromanage people because they will fail to invest in building skills. Replacement will always be their go-to response.

It’s My Organizational Model Syndrome generates the environment which maximizes the potential for micromanagement. For example, adopting the Leader-Follower model identified by Marquet in Turn the Ship Around, and other autocratic models creates a hierarchy in which the leader is assumed to be smarter and more knowledgeable than subordinates. Therefore, leaders are doing the right thing to maximize value delivery.

It is easy to describe the cause of micromanagement as trust. However, each of the fours syndromes describes a scenario that reduces trust,.  Each of these scenarios creates an environment that fosters micromanagement. Fix the root cause and work on healing trust between leaders and followers. Increasing trust will reduce the need for leaders to micromanage their subordinates.

In this theme we will explore:

  1.     Observations of the Definition of Management
  2.      Four Syndromes Leading to Micromanagement *Today *
  3.      Recognizing Management in Ourselves
  4.      Breaking The Cycle of Micromanagement