No One Likes a Micro-Manager!

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By Eileen Habelow, Ph.D.

How many times have you heard someone say, ‘I work for an absolute micro-manager’, their statement dripping with disdain and disgust?

And, how many times have you heard someone say, ‘I am a hands-off manager’, their proclamation dripping with self-righteousness and a superior tone?

Here’s the truth about both of those statements… there is a right time and a wrong time to work for a ‘micro-manager’.  And, there is also a right time and a wrong time to be a ‘hands-off manager’.  Neither one of these management approaches is always or never the best or worst leadership style!  Yet, the both are typically perceived with assumed value – no one ever likes a micro-manager, and everyone always likes a hands-off manager.

In fact, every leader needs to have both sets of tools in her or his management toolkit.  And, every leader needs to know when and how to use the tactics and techniques of micro-management and hands-off.

Can you think of a time when a micro-management approach would backfire?  Of course, you can – any time the performer is assigned a task that she or he is comfortable with, confident in performing, and possesses the requisite expertise and experience to complete the task satisfactorily, micro-management will only impede performance and/or demotivate the performer.  Given these circumstances, a more appropriate choice for the leader would be to ensure that expectations are clear, and then practice ‘hands-off’ management by agreeing upon goals, timelines, and standards.  Then, let the performer go.

Can you think of a time when a hands-off management approach would backfire?  I can imagine a colleague who is asked to perform a task for which she or he does not have any confidence they will be successful.  In fact, the colleague has no idea where to start, but the leader was so anxious to ‘empower’, there was no coaching, no guidance, only a very cheery “you can do this – let me know when you are done”.

Of course, I am exaggerating the scenarios and the leader approaches.  The key is – know your performer, know the task you have assigned, and understand the performer’s level of competence and confidence in the specific task.  There are specific skills that must be mastered to be an effective ‘micro-manager’ and an effective ‘hands-off manager’ at just the right time.  The most important skill is recognizing when to use which toolkit.

How comfortable are you being a micro-manager; someone who is in the details, providing guidance, and being heavily involved in coaching a performer?

How comfortable are you being a hands-off manager; someone who gets clear alignment on expectations and goals, and then is confident enough to allow a performer choose her or his path to the end goal?

The work world needs both!

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