How To Stop Micromanaging Your People (Part II: Changing Your Habits)

Bad habits might never really go away, but it’s also true that you can intentionally rewire yourself for positive behaviour change. In this case, micromanagement is that bad habit: one that needs to be curbed for the sake of your employees and your company. It’s not as simple as just letting go, though.


Steve Jobs, for example, was a notorious micromanager. Upon his initial departure from Apple, he founded the computer start-up NeXT, where he micromanaged obsessively. NeXT was a commercial failure. Consequently, when he returned to Apple years later, he drastically changed his management style and started to delegate more. Today, Apple has a market cap of over $1 trillion. 

In any case, Google’s research on what makes an effective manager found, crucially, that they don’t micromanage; they empower people instead. In that regard, here’s what a self-confessed micromanager can do to break the habit. 

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1. Understand why you do it

One of the most essential steps to effective behaviour change is understanding what motivates you. Practicing self-awareness and getting to the root of the issue is critical in this regard. What drives you to micromanage people? Are there particular situations where you’re more likely to micromanage than others, and if so, why?


What reward do you get by micromanaging your people in this way? In what other ways can you get such rewards besides micromanaging? 

For example, you might micromanage out of a desire to be seen as highly knowledgeable and experienced to your people. Instead, have regular check-ins with your people to directly engage them on a one to one basis. Use these sessions to stay updated on their progress at work, discuss any challenges they might be facing, and provide mentorship. 


2. Make feedback a two-way street

Most people who micromanage either don’t realise they’re doing it or they underestimate the negativity that it breeds amongst their people. It’s therefore crucial that you ask your people for feedback on the issue.


Your employees will probably be unwilling to give proactively give negative feedback about your leadership (unless they’ve had enough.) It’s an unspoken, timeless rule: don’t bite the hand that feeds you. If you want honest feedback on the impact that your micromanagement has on your people–or whether they think you micromanage at all–then you need to provide a safe environment for them to do it.


3. Revisit & reset your managerial priorities 

Micromanaging tends to pile on your “busy-work.” These are the things you need to get done, but which don’t contribute as much to your overall performance as a manager. Checking your email, for example, takes time and makes you look busy. It doesn’t, though, make much of a dent on your track record. 


To help yourself differentiate between busy-work and essential work, go back to your managerial priorities and look over them once again. Ask yourself, what are the three most critical priorities that should be taking up most of your workday? Tweaking a business strategy, for example, requires substantial high-focused thinking. In that sense, directing your time and effort towards tasks that only you can do will give you a much better pay-off than busy-work does. 


4. Start small

You don’t need to go cold turkey right off the bat. If the idea of ceding all the control you’ve always had over your people worries you too much, then start small. Pick a relatively more low-stakes project that your people are working on and experiment with delegating authority there first. Getting your foot in the door in this way is an excellent means of preparing yourself to delegate more authority to your people instead of micromanaging them. 



5. Delegate according to your team’s wants and needs 

Every manager has to know how to delegate work to her people effectively. That entails delegating according to your team’s wants and needs. When assigning projects and tasks to them, you need to take into consideration each person’s particular strengths and weaknesses, their career goals, and what motivates each of them. 

According to Marcus Buckingham, former Senior Vice President of Gallup, every manager must know three things about each of her direct reports:*

  • What are their strengths? 
  • Which triggers activate those strengths? 
  • What is their learning style?


Knowing this helps to create a framework for deciding who would be best suited for which project. Factoring good task person-fit heavily into your delegation decisions can do a lot to assuage your anxieties about employees missing the mark. 


6. Emphasise ownership & accountability 

Some managers have trouble delegating authority because they worry that their people can’t handle things on their own. A good way to counteract this is to take measures to place a strong emphasis on ownership and accountability at work: 

  • Make decision-making processes more participatory and inclusive
  • Keep reiterating company values and ethos, including accountability and ownership
  • Encourage peer-to-peer feedback and open communication 

When people are given greater authority at work, coupled with a stronger sense of ownership, research shows that their motivation to perform grows. 


*as reported in the Harvard Business Review. 


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