Micromanagement in the Workplace: Embracing Extreme Ownership

What is Micromanagement in the Workplace

In the world of leadership, there exists a tricky balance between guidance and autonomy, a balance that when tipped too far in either direction can yield adverse consequences. Micromanagement is the bane of productivity and creativity in the workplace, it often stems from a leader’s inability to relinquish control and foster a culture of ownership among their team members.

An Example of Micromanagement in the Workplace

Consider the following scenario: During an on-site visit with a client, a newly promoted leader, Emily, expressed her frustration regarding a member of her team, Heather, who was inundating her daily with seemingly trivial inquiries and tasks.  Emily believed these tasks should be well within Heather’s capabilities to handle independently. She even stated, “I fully trust her and feel confident she can handle these small problems on her own”.

I started asking some earnest questions:

“You say that you trust Heather explicitly and have a great relationship with her but what does her behavior tell you?” // “That she doesn’t feel trusted”.

“What happens when she calls you with these questions?” // “I give her the answers or solve the problem for her.”

“Can you think of any reasons Heather doesn’t feel confident to solve these problems at her level?” // “I’ve stepped in before and taken over projects that I felt weren’t up the standard of how I wanted them”.

To Emily’s credit, she did what we ask leaders to do when assessing problems and challenges, she detached, both from her emotions and her ego which was fueling her frustrations. As Emily considered the questions I was asking her, she began to realize that her own management approach was inadvertently exacerbating the situation. She had not only become the “easy button” but she had created a scenario in which Heather did not feel trusted to make decisions or solve problems on her own. Reflecting on her interactions with Heather, Emily recognized a pattern of micromanagement that she had unconsciously adopted since her promotion.

Emily recalled instances where she would meticulously outline every step of a task for Heather, leaving little room for autonomy or creativity. She would hover over Heather’s shoulder, constantly checking in and offering unsolicited advice, inadvertently communicating a lack of trust in Heather’s abilities. This constant scrutiny not only stifled Heather’s confidence but also prevented her from taking ownership of her work.

The Dangers of Micromanagement in the Workplace

Emily’s situation exemplifies the perils of micromanagement in the workplace. Initially, Emily’s close oversight of her team’s activities was motivated by a sincere desire to ensure operational smoothness and uphold standards of excellence as a new leader in this role. However, her good intentions inadvertently backfired, stifling initiative and breeding dependency within her team.

Micromanagement, often fueled by insecurity and a fear of failure, undermines the very essence of effective leadership – trust. Emily’s lack of confidence in her new role led her to overcompensate by micromanaging her team’s every move, unwittingly eroding trust and impeding growth. In a culture of micromanagement, employees become disempowered, relegated to mere executors of tasks rather than proactive problem-solvers and decision-makers.

How to Reverse the Effects of Micromanagement

Emily worked through the Extreme Ownership Framework, and we role-played what her conversation with Heather might look like. The framework requires a leader to: 

1. Define the problem.

2. Explain the impact of the problem or the consequences if that problem does not get solved.

3. Take ownership. 

4. Provide solutions. 

In the initial role-play exercise, Emily nearly hit all the marks perfectly except for 1 – OWNERSHIP. Her instinct, as she was still wrestling with her own ego and emotions, was to take partial ownership – “This is partly my fault.” As I provided feedback, I urged her to remove that one word, “partly.” She repeated the phrase, “This is my fault.” As she said this, her shoulders relaxed, and she actually smiled. You could see the frustration and lack of control that had been building dissipate, and what was left was a new sense of empowerment. You could physically see her confidence in how to handle this situation increase.

Like Emily, most leaders find themselves grappling with the urge to micromanage their teams. Combating this instinct requires implementing Decentralized Command, empowering team members to take the lead in problem-solving and decision-making at their level. Despite its importance, relinquishing control in this manner is no small feat. For Emily, it was first recognizing her part in creating the problem. As leaders, we need to be aware at all times how to best support our team without stepping on their toes.

In tandem with this approach, it is crucial for leaders to establish clear expectations and offer ongoing support and feedback. Effective delegation goes beyond mere assignment of tasks; it necessitates transparent communication of objectives, provision of resources, and guidance as required. Achieving this delicate balance enables leaders to foster an environment where teams thrive autonomously, while also nurturing a culture of support that encourages continual growth and development.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while micromanagement may offer a temporary sense of control, it ultimately leads to strategic setbacks for both leaders and their teams. Although it may seem like a tactical win in the moment, the long-term effects can be detrimental. Micromanagement stifles creativity, demotivates team members, and hampers growth opportunities. It is imperative for leaders to recognize the pitfalls of micromanagement and actively work to avoid it at all costs. By embracing decentralized command, setting clear expectations, and providing ongoing support, leaders can cultivate an environment where trust, autonomy, and innovation flourish, ultimately leading to greater success for all involved.

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