What Is Micromanagement?

“Micromanagement is a temporary tool, not a permanent solution.” -Leif Babin 

What Is Micromanagement – Deprivation of Freedom 

Freedom. It is the number one state toward which all human beings strive. Wars have been fought for it. Countries have been founded to protect it. Millions of people have died to preserve it. If we as human beings don’t have enough of it, then our lives can never truly feel whole. This is why, when we lose it in any aspect of our lives, it creates an unsettling feeling that can destroy everything about us that makes us human. Our happiness, our initiative, our creativity, and our camaraderie. This is especially apparent when this loss of freedom occurs at the place where most people spend a large proportion of their time: at work. 

Nobody likes to be micromanaged. Nobody likes to have the freedom that they enjoy being taken away. We wouldn’t want it to happen to us, and if we care about our people, we don’t want it to happen to them, either. However, so often, we create conditions that steal away our team’s freedoms without even realizing we’re doing it. Thus, it is vital for us to understand the question: what is micromanagement? 

What Is Micromanagement – An Imbalance 

At Echelon Front, we view all leadership challenges through the Laws of Combat. The most applicable of which, in the case of micromanagement, is also one of the most difficult to achieve: Decentralized Command. Viewing through this lens, when asked, “what is micromanagement?” we can answer, “micromanagement is leadership that is deficient in Decentralized Command.”  

The Laws of Combat, just like every part of life, must be kept in the correct balance. This means utilizing them to the degree that they optimize the effectiveness of the team. Too much or too little application both result in problems. This concept is quite simple but, unfortunately, difficult to master. Because the right balance will change based on which person you’re working with, which team you’re working with, and what the priority is. It changes from moment to moment and day to day. 

In the case of Decentralized Command, if a team is too decentralized, then the team members won’t understand the mission or the why behind it. They will make mistakes that don’t get corrected. Taskings won’t be tracked. The team and the mission will suffer. 

An imbalance on the other end of the spectrum of balance, in which there is too little decentralization, is what we commonly refer to as micromanagement. 

Additionally, since leaders lead in all directions in the chain of command, micromanagement isn’t just a form of leadership between a boss and a subordinate. It can also occur peer to peer and even subordinate to boss.  

Why Does Micromanagement Occur? 

The tendency to micromanage primarily stems from two sources. The first is the same source that causes the vast majority of leadership challenges: the ego. People who are in formal leadership positions, such as managers, directors, and even front-line leaders who have been put in charge of certain projects, are all perfectly positioned to have their egos fed by the fickle power that their title affords them. Because of this, if they are not self-aware and careful, they will allow their ego to feed itself by convincing them to exercise their power over their people excessively. Their ego will also tell them that they are in this role because they must have superior knowledge over the other people on their team. This naturally will beget micromanagement because the leader who is driven by their ego will exercise their power by constantly telling everyone on the team exactly what to do and how to do it. This will be exacerbated when the team inevitably comes back to the boss with problems. The boss will then show off their superior knowledge by solving all the problems for the team. 

The second source of micromanagement is a lack of trust. We have another ego-driven tendency to believe that we are the only ones who could possibly do a job right. And, since the team is not us, this mindset leads to a lack of trust in the ability of the team to execute. Therefore, we think we must constantly ensure that our team is executing the mission exactly how we would do it. Causing us to check in too often, monitor too closely, and constantly muddle in the team’s execution. Once again, this leads to micromanagement.  

Unfortunately, while the ego is preventing us from seeing that micromanagement is typically a sub-optimal way to lead a team, it is also preventing us from seeing that, in the long term, it is also impossible to maintain. 

Human beings, no matter how intelligent they are, all have a limited capacity in the number of things they can think about simultaneously. Naturally, this is going to create problems as teams grow, the number of projects increases, and problems arise. Inevitably, the leader utilizing micromanagement will quickly reach their capacity to control these various issues, and they may redouble their efforts, but it will be useless. 

The Impact of Micromanagement 

If the leader continues to micromanage in the face of overwhelming priorities, they will see many downstream effects that negatively affect the team and the mission. The team’s initiative will evaporate, leading them to wait and be told what to do instead of aggressively solving problems. Since the team is no longer taking the initiative, they will have no reason to think about how to solve problems, which will, in turn, destroy their creativity. Additionally, teams will no longer feel the need to work together to solve problems, creating silos and minimizing teamwork. Morale will drop. Trust will erode. Relationships will falter. Lastly, and most importantly, the team will fail. 

Instead, the leader must restore the balance of Decentralized Command back to its ideal equilibrium. The leader must empower their team to solve problems by explaining broad goals, end states, and the why behind a project. They must allow them to make plans. They must train the team to be capable of executing without the boss’ presence or input. In short, they must empower the team to lead. 

Micromanagement: A Necessary Evil. Sometimes. 

As with all aspects of leadership, there is a dichotomy at play with micromanagement. While, yes, generally, micromanagement is a leadership style that negatively affects the team, in certain circumstances, it can also be not only beneficial but required. On occasion, it is necessary to purposefully imbalance the amount of Decentralized Command you are using such that it is minimized.  

There are several circumstances in which micromanagement may be the proper method to lead. Firstly, if a team member is struggling to perform, it may be necessary to limit the scope of their freedom until they get a better handle on their duties, then gradually increase their scope until they are able to take more ownership. Second, when one is mentoring a teammate, for example, a new member of the team, it may be necessary to perform more frequent check-ins and provide more guidance until they are up to speed. Lastly, when you are teaching someone a new skill, it may be ideal to be extremely hands-on to the point of walking them through the skill step by step until they have a complete understanding such that they do not need constant guidance and can operate on their own. 

The common theme with all of these scenarios, and the key point to remember when utilizing micromanagement, is that the end state is always to guide the person being micromanaged to a point at which they can take full ownership on their own. 

Decentralized Command Leads to Victory 

When the balance of Decentralized Command is ideal, the team will operate as efficiently and effectively as they possibly can. The team will be able to solve problems on their own. They will become more innovative and improve processes throughout the company. The trust between teams, individuals, and the boss and the team will improve. Relationships will grow in all directions. Every member of the team will be trained in order to reach their highest potential and contribute to the team. The boss will be free to position themselves wherever they are most needed and most importantly, work on the things that only they can do. Namely, thinking strategically about the needs and direction of the team. Put simply, the team will win. 

Conclusion 

To conclude, what is micromanagement? It is simply an imbalance in Decentralized Command. It can be a hindrance, or it can be a tool, and whether it is one or the other depends upon the circumstances of its usage. However, if you do use it as a tool, remember that it is never a permanent solution, and you should always seek to amplify the freedom of your people to lead. 

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