There's a long-standing joke at LMT that whenever one of us--guess who--starts to provide too much detail about how to handle a particular task, someone interrupts to say, "...and be sure to use a Number 2 pencil." That's how I know I need to back off. It's become our code for: "Hands off. Let me figure it out for myself."
I know you know exactly what I'm talking about. For many small business owners, the tendency to micromanage is strong. After all, we know exactly what we want and how we want it done, right? Unfortunately, there's a fine line that separates guidance and direction from micromanaging every detail required to get an end result. Crossing that line can create a lot of upset and disharmony. The challenge is knowing when we're crossing over.
When you and your staff both have similar hands-on responsibilities, how do you allow for differences between the ways you prefer to handle the details from the ways they handle them?
Way back [in the 1980s] when LMT's esteemed editor Kelly Carr was learning how to position advertisements within the issue, I advised her to use a number two pencil because there'd be a lot of erasing. She looked up at me with an expression that, among other things, said, "Are you seriously telling me what to write with?" So I asked her what a better way to teach her would be. Her reply was fast and clear: "Tell me what needs to be done and then stay out of my way."
The affection with which she delivered this response may not translate here on paper but it was the best thing she could have said. This fall, Kelly will become LMT's first 25-year staff member which means either I learned how to back off or she has darn good ear plugs.
I'm comfortable admitting it's mostly a case of the latter since, after all these years, I still haven't mastered the art of "hands-off" leadership but we work hard to keep the lines of communication open, especially because I don't usually know when I'm being overbearing. What is it about our need to control how things are being done that can turn it from healthy concern for ensuring excellence into some kind of power trip that suggests the boss is the only capable person here?
Victims of micromanagement (or, for fans of TV's The Office, "microgement") feel their contributions aren't trusted or respected. Stifling their ability to create and develop their own work style and do their own problem solving is both frustrating and demotivating. That's bad. If employees aren't given enough freedom and flexibility to perform their tasks, they'll never--and you'll never--discover their true potential and how that potential can benefit both themselves and the business.
On the other hand, there are times when micromanaging can be a good thing--BP engineers could have benefited from it, certainly--such as when there are time/cost constraints or troubleshooting expertise is urgently needed. But, ideally, management should be hands off with its eyes on leadership instead.
Perhaps questions like these can help you recognize if you, too, might be crossing the line. Do you:
Spend an inordinate amount of time detailing exactly what and how a project needs to be done?
Find yourself overseeing projects that you know full well others can handle and that end up eating into precious time you need for other responsibilities?
Get irritated when others make decisions without consulting you even though they're perfectly acceptable decisions?
Spend most of your time bouncing from project to project and person to person?
Regularly offer unsolicited opinions?
Whoops! Is this a "mirror moment"?