The Delicate Difference Between Micromanaging and Managing

how to not micromanage

By Megan Broussard

There’s a delicate difference between managing successfully and micromanaging the employees on your team. Maybe you’ve wondered what that line is, especially because maybe (gasp) you’ve been called the dreaded “M” word: micromanager.

To help you distinguish between leadership delegation and counterproductive knit-picking tactics, I’ve consulted with career experts. Here’s what they had to say about the obvious and not-so-obvious signs you’re micromanaging (stifling, aggravating, stalking, etc…) the staff versus delegating tasks down the chain of command the right way.

Essentially, you know you’re a micromanager if you’re doing these five things.

1. You care more about how it gets done than that it gets done.

Ask yourself, are you task-oriented to a fault? The result is the part of the process that managers should be concerned with—not the way in which an employee achieves that result. If you find yourself obsessive about the means used to get from point A to point B instead of evaluating the product, then you’re micromanaging.

If you notice that your team is afraid of making a decision without your approval, this also points to micromanagement.

As Michael Timms, M.B.A, president of availleadership.com says, “A good manager is someone who can clearly define what decisions must be discussed with you first, and what decisions your subordinate is free to make without running it by you.”

Timms also says that the most powerful way to do that is to provide clear examples for each situation.

2. You don’t care about helping the other person develop.

A good manager invests in his or her employees with mentorship, education, and empowerment. This is because the investment in the advancement of your subordinates will make your job easier while allowing you the time to hone skills needed for your promotion.

Timms warns that managers should resist the urge to tinker with other people’s ideas or work, or else you risk being a micromanager that will not only stunt the growth of that employee, but also stunt your own growth as a manager—a lose-lose for the company as a whole.

“Managers often feel the need to add their two-cents to any idea or work their subordinates produce. But there are times when it isn’t worth it,” Timms says.

He refers to his favorite quote from leadership author Marshall Goldsmith when explaining why this is true from the perspective of the subordinate: “You may have improved the content of my idea by 5 percent, but you’ve reduced my commitment to executing it by 50 percent.”

3. You’re swamped with work that’s in someone else’s job description.

If you’re constantly muttering to yourself that there’s never enough time in the day to finish everything, but the team members you manage are able to leave earlier than you on a regular basis, then you might want to ask yourself if you’re lacking in the managing-down department by not delegating the minor tasks and projects on your plate.

A tip from Julia M. Winston, M.Ed., an executive coach and founder at BRAVE Communication LLC, is to dole out duties with a specific set of instructions. Winston says that proper delegation includes communicating what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and to what standards it should meet.

If you can’t trust the people you work with to help you with your tasks, then you’ll be micromanaging the project.

4. Your motivation to get involved is to remedy anxiety.

“The best way to know if you’re micromanaging vs. managing down comes from your personal state,” says Dr. Dave Popple, president of Psynet Group.

“People who are managing down are focused on achieving the purpose of the team and the development of their direct report. However, micromanaging is an anxiety response meant to make us less anxious. If the manager honestly assesses the reason for their behavior, it will be clear whether they are managing or micromanaging.”

5. You think you’re the smartest guy or girl in the room.

David Bakke of Money Crashers says that if you continually remind your staff members that you are, in fact, the boss, that’s another indication of micromanagement. This flexing of your muscles, so-to-speak, exemplifies your insecurity of relinquishing control of a task.

Contrary to popular belief, not all micro-management tendencies come from tyrannical control. As Dr. Popple puts it, sometimes these tendencies are coming from a good place, though nevertheless they still cause problems.

“For instance, before one of my clients took her position as a leader in academia,” Popple says, “her team had experienced leadership abuse. Vowing never to be like her predecessor, she started taking on more and more of her employees’ responsibilities as a show of her compassion. Eventually, it morphed into micromanagement because she wanted to be a buffer for her employees.”

While you may have good intentions as a manager, it’s more important that you’re mindful of the effects on productivity your tactics are making. This will keep you and your staff happier in the long run.

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