Learning to Monitor without Micro-Managing

I've trained a few dozen people in a myriad of positions. The most memorable sessions though, hands down, have been my stage makeup crews. If you think corporate training is tough, try teaching college students how to powder a man's face. That's right. Not their face. Someone else's.

Actually, the powder was the easy part. Before that was safety training, including hygiene protocol, color-matching, and all the preferred tricks and tips when it comes to making every face live up to the director's vision. I got skilled at it, after a while. And when you get good at something, it can be excruciating to watch other people learn how to do it.

There were times I wasn't sure I could trust my team to get that color match correct, apply eyeliner to a 9-year-old, or properly affix a face tattoo. I thought that I was the only one that could get it right. Soon enough, I learned that kind of attitude wasn't actually doing our crew any favors.

If I insisted on doing everything myself, or even making my team wait until I could be present to begin the application, it wasn't going to get done. And if it did, I would come out the other end exhausted and disgruntled.

The entire ordeal revealed my tendency to micromanage. My work ethic and attention to detail afforded me a position of authority, but ironically those admirable qualities could've easily turned me into the dreaded micro-manager--and sometimes did.

Leaders of all kinds struggle to walk the tightrope between managing too much and managing too little. The balance is complicated by the wide variety of surveillance technologies becoming easily available. And while it seems like a closer, constant surveillance would save time, it actually eats up the time of the surveyor, as well as stressing everyone out.

Fortunately, there is still hope for successful management without putting everyone under a constant microscope. Here are just a few ways to keep your urge to micro-manage at bay.


Establish Desired Outcomes

Micro-managers aren’t merely concerned with getting the job done, but with exactly how the job is getting done. In some cases, this might be important, but in most cases, it’s kind of like the math problems encountered at school. There was a certain way the teacher explained how to solve a problem, and often they expected you to do it that way--the dreaded command to “show your work.” But sometimes--okay, many times--you probably managed to find a different method that still got the same result, perhaps with less time and less stress.

There are, in this sense, two kinds of math teachers: the ones who require you to solve the problem exactly like they would, and then the ones who don’t care how you solve the problem as long as your answer is correct. Micro-managing is like the former.

Consider the goals that your team is setting out to accomplish. What are your desired outcomes? Leadership coach Kristi Hedges advises that managers “try to focus on the outcomes being achieved rather than the tactics being used.” It’s okay to step in and set benchmarks, but it's unnecessary to monitor 100% of the process.

Yes, Hedges admits that this means “for this to work, you have to lose the urge to have it done exactly your way.” It may make you cringe at first, but your team will thank you for the breathing room.

Trust and Delegation

Micro-managing often indicates distrust. Even if your team is qualified, micro-management suggests that you still don’t entirely trust them to do the job right. Cultivating trust will keep you from micro-managing, and give your team more confidence in their own work.

Trust and delegation go hand in hand. It’s much easier to delegate tasks to someone that you trust. In situations I’ve managed, delegation has saved my sanity on many occasions. Because the reality is that you can’t always handle every detail yourself. If someone on your team is willing to help share that stress and lighten your load, why would you refuse?

LaKesha Womack of Womack Consulting Group, puts the issue plainly, explaining that “many micromanagers do so because they have trust issues,” and in that case, it’s up to you to “confront your personal issues and then seek to empower your team to succeed.”

Kristi Hedges simplifies the concept into the phrase “delegation does not equal abdication.” This is a team, after all.


Keep an Open Dialogue

Transparency will help build trust and promote a problem-solving spirit. In fact, studies show that monitoring too closely can hurt problem-solving ability. Janet Britcher, President of Transformation Management, LLC, suggests micro-management can be fought off starting with “nothing more than inquiry.”

This inquiry is a spirit of curiosity, “initiating dialogue about assignments,” and “asking open-ended questions that convey interest, accountability, and autonomy.”

If someone is solving a problem differently than you would, it’s better to ask them about their methods than to insist it be done your way. Asking questions along the way and giving your team adequate autonomy demonstrates that you trust them, and also allows everyone to have input in establishing your desired outcomes. That way, this is everyone’s project and not just your pet.


Breathe, It’s Going to Be Okay

It can be excruciating to let go of our desire to do it all and to do it all our way. It may sting a little at first. You may have to watch someone fail or flounder, and though you can coach them through it, you also have to trust that they are learning along the way. And maybe, just maybe, their way of doing things is as effective as yours.

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