Want to Stop Micromanaging? Here's How

Over the years, I've encountered a sizable number of leaders who micromanage -- many of whom want to have more time for working on their business instead of in their business. It's more difficult to transition out of than simply changing one's own behaviors -- although that is challenging enough. If you're in that situatio,n here's what you can do to get out of it.

Micromanagers dive into the details of way too many things. They tell people what to do and how to do it, they re-work what others have done, and change decisions made by others. In the process, they discourage key people, derail innovation, sap initiative, and block people development. In large companies, micromanagers damage their own promotability. And in small companies, they can become a primary obstacle to company growth.

In my work successfully coaching executives through the transition from micromanager to effective leader, I've found that substituting a new set of behaviors for the manager is only part of the solution -- the other part is changing the beliefs and behaviors of everyone else --especially direct reports -- all of whom have become dependent on the micromanager.

If you are a micromanager who wants to change, here are six practical considerations:

  1. Micromanagers operate at the wrong leadership level. What has made you successful in the past -- solving problems and getting things done -- is not the role of an effective leader. Let your people handle operational problems, after all, that is why you have an organization. Stop sweating the small stuff and begin doing your job -- creating a vision, formulating strategy to get there, leading the organization, and developing your people.
  2. Micromanagement and trust are negatively correlated. When micromanagement is high, trust within the organization is low. And when trust is low, so is self-confidence. Leaders want organizations that are full of self-confidence, energy, drive, and initiative. The leader's job is to build a strong organization to execute strategy. To do that you've got to build both trust and self-confidence among your people.
  3. Striving for perfection is not the way to success. Voltaire quoted an Italian aphorism "Perfect is the enemy of the good." Too often micromanagers want perfection so they re-do work and change decisions. Sometimes it is important, but do that too much and you sap the energy of your people. Focus your energy and the energy of your people where the results are the greatest. The Pareto Principle encourages us to expend 20% of our energy to get 80% of the results. The effort to get the remaining 20% of results isn't worth the incremental effort, and it will drive everyone around you crazy.
  4. The micromanager's greatest fear is that things won't get done on time or well enough. It's a valid concern. The reality is that when you transition away from micromanaging, it's not just you that has to change, but everyone around you. You've created a culture where everyone is heavily dependent on you. You've trained people to wait for your direction, your involvement, your ideas, and your decisions. You've taught people that their work will likely be redone, so rather than take initiative, they learned to become more passive about ideas, decisions and actions. Given that, you cannot just change your own behaviors, you have to change theirs as well. You'll need a new approach to reset values, attitudes, and behaviors and to help people be responsible for taking action and accountable for results.
  5. If you must micromanage, focus it on one key aspect of the business. Steve Jobs was very strategic, but there was one aspect of the business where he was a micromanager -- when it came to the next big thing. If you have the urge to micromanage, focus it on a key strategic issue -- a product, product line, project, strategic customer, or developing talent for example.
  6. Stop taking over. Learn what to do when people come to you with problems. Don't take over because if you do, you're focus gets diverted from non-urgent but important issues you should be addressing, to urgent and relatively unimportant issues. Your role is to develop your people, create opportunities, set priorities and remove obstacles. That's the real task of leaders.

Changing from micromanaging is a major behavioral challenge but it does not have to be difficult. We've seen many executives successfully make the transition to become effective leaders. But you've got to want to do it, and you'll need an effective approach encompassing your organization as well as yourself.