Are You a Micromanager? How to Let Go and Empower Others
President Theodore Roosevelt said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
Today, I’d like to share with you how to improve your leadership by getting out of your people’s way.
One of my favorite leadership books is Drive. The author, Daniel Pink, says that our people are looking for three things:
Autonomy: Beyond initial training, no one likes to have their hand held.
Mastery: We all want to excel at what we do.
Purpose: We all want to believe we are working toward something great.
I find this to be absolutely true. Great leaders create these elements for the people around them. Today, I would like to delve a little deeper into autonomy and it’s number one enemy, the micromanager.
Are You a Micromanager?
Micromanagers rarely see themselves that way. So, our challenge is to ask the people who report to us directly. Simply ask your them if you are a micromanager, then allow them to rate you on a scale of 1 to 5:
- Poor: You believe if you want something done right, you must do it yourself. Therefore, you are on top of every single detail. You can’t let go of anything.
- Bad: You worry about people’s abilities to do things well and to see tasks through to completion. So, you rarely trust people with their duties. You control their time like a puppet on a string.
- Average: You willingly delegate less significant responsibilities. But you won’t let go of important jobs because there’s just too much at stake.
- Good: Overall, you allow people to do their jobs. You may get more heavily involved in new or high-priority projects, but you expect people to perform their daily responsibilities on their own.
- Amazing: You trust your people. You can’t wait to see what they are going to do next. You empower them. They know they have freedom to think outside the box without fear of failure or mistakes.
The Struggle with Letting Go
As leaders, we tend to think we know what people should do. But we also doubt whether they will do it, or if it will get done right, so we hover over them. We correct their work. And we justify our behavior because our efforts are to benefit the team, help the individual, or ensure the success of the organization. Even though our logic may be correct, the premise is not.
An organization succeeds when people are first built up. Micromanaging tears people down. It destroys their confidence and initiative. And still sometimes we insist on not letting go. Many times we become pre-occupied with this question: What if my people are not doing what they are supposed to do?
I believe that is the wrong focus. If people are not doing what they are supposed to, start building healthy relationships with them and help them grow. The better questions may be: How can I invest in my people? How can I understand my people and place them in their strengths?
We must move away from a culture of correction to a culture of connection and empowerment.
What to Do When Others Are Not Measuring Up
If people don’t accomplish what they should and don’t measure up to your standards, you must do one of these things. (Notice that holding their hand is not one of these options.)
- Train them. For a short period. No more than three months from their initial hire date.
- Invest in them. Send them to seminars. Expose them to new ideas. Let them learn from other sources. Just as parents, as the boss, you may begin to sound like a broken record after a while.
- Allow them to make mistakes. Mistakes and failures create teachable moments. Learning experiences act as springboards for growth, even if initially they look more like expenses to the mission and to the organization. Again if you build people first, you will establish a thriving organization.
- Remove them from their position. Sometimes people are just in the wrong position for their skill set or personality. If needed, move them to another position that will utilize their strengths. Or let them go all together.
The Destruction of Holding Their Hand
The worst thing we can do is resort to hand-holding. When we choose to coddle someone, we deflate their spirit. Once spirits are deflated, no great work is done. People settle into the status quo, meeting the minimum expectations. But even more critical, when spirits are crushed we violate a core principle of healthy leadership. We no longer lift people up. We press them down. We hold them back.
As a leader, I want to elevate the human spirit. I want to see people feel bigger, smarter, bolder, wiser, and more courageous. When this does not happen—regardless of the results I have achieved—I consider myself failing as a leader.
The Challenge of Working with the People We Have
All too often leaders bring incompetent people into their circles. It’s not intentional of course. But for a variety of reasons we populate our organizations with people who have poor work ethics, lack of professionalism, and limited personal skills. Then we complain because we have to micromanage them.
Let me relieve you of your problem, my friend. Either walk beside these people, develop relationships with them, invest in them, give them opportunities to try new things—even at the risk of making mistakes. Or let them go.
If I were on the other end of this equation, I would much rather be fired than micromanaged. We were created to exercise our creativity and ingenuity, our capacity and capability. We were made to expand our abilities and reach new heights. As leaders, we must afford those opportunities to our people or they will look for it elsewhere.
General George S. Patton said, “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” He was a leader who figured out how to empower people with autonomy.
The best relationships are those where we don’t have to tell people what to do. They simply get the vision, the values, the purpose, and the mission. They understand the direction. And within those boundaries they freely explore. They impress us with their achievements.
Nothing is more beautiful than that—to see the capacity for greatness in others released. Especially when you know God used you in some small way to unleash their potential.
May I be used in this glorious way. May I become better every day in empowering those alongside me. If we consistently commit to releasing people in this way, the sky is the limit for our people and our organizations.
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