No one likes being bossed around. For that matter, no one likes being micromanaged. It’s almost always bad for employees’ performance. People want to feel like they have some sense of control over their lives and at their jobs too. The less ownership they feel, the less motivated they are to perform, and the harder the blow to the company.
The thing about being a serial micromanager, though, is that it’s like a reflex. Most micromanagers are so used to exerting excessive control that it takes conscious, sustained, and strategic effort to getting rid of their control-freak habits. It starts, first off, with changing your mindset. Here’s how.
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As the saying goes, “the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.” Without this most crucial step, nothing else will work. You cannot break a bad habit if you don’t realise how damaging it is in the first place.
The trouble is, most people tend not to think of themselves as micromanagers. We’re generally much more likely to point out someone else’s flawed management style than peruse ourselves for any signs of it. As Ron Ashkenas writes in the Harvard Business Review, this begs the question, “But if nobody is a micromanager, then who is doing all the micromanaging?”
Being controlling might make you feel better in the short term, but it’s bad news for your employees in the long run. The less autonomy they have at work, the more disengaged they become.
Consequently, their motivation suffers, and so does their performance. Critical thinking skills take a hit too; the best managers don’t spoon-feed their people with solutions as micromanagers often do.
Perhaps worst of all, micromanagement breeds a distrustful work environment. If people feel that their bosses don’t trust them to do their job well, it can be a massive blow to morale. In other words, by micromanaging, you might be setting your people up to fail.
Look objectively at how much your micromanaging habits penalise you. The more control you demand over your employees’ work, the more work you ultimately end up having. If you insist that everything has to go by you before it goes anywhere else, you have to be prepared to give your approval for things that don’t actually need it.
In this case, being overworked really is your fault. What’s more, the more time you devote to such “shallow work,” the less time you have for “deep work”—the kind of high-focused, do-not-disturb time that can supercharge your productivity and boost your career development.
So many micromanagers get stuck in thinking that good leadership calls for a high degree of control over others. This, however, is only a small aspect of what good leadership actually entails.
In reality, true leadership is like parenting. Helicopter parents who dote on their children and try to protect them from every possible mistake or failure often end up raising children who lack perseverance and resourcefulness, or who are just outright rebellious.
Similarly, “helicopter managers” can have the same effects on their people. If you want your employees to grow, you need to give them space to manoeuvre, while also coaching them along the process.