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How to Change a Micromanaging Mindset

If you think you need to control your team’s work, it’s time to look in the mirror.

A colleague of mine resents the term “micromanager.” He often says, “There’s a fine line between being a micromanager and being a quality expert. I want to empower my team, but at the end of the day, I own our results.”

With all due respect to my friend, I disagree. To me, micromanaging isn’t about being a quality expert—it’s about having a faulty paradigm.

Micromanaging: A Vicious Cycle

Micromanaging is a perfect example of how our paradigms affect our behavior and ultimately, our results.

If I’m a micromanager, I see my team as incapable, dependent, or even lazy. This has a direct effect on my behavior: I give overbearing instructions, hover over them, and monitor constantly. As a result, people are suffocated. They lose the joy of their work. They shut down and wait for me to do things myself. Ultimately my team will get mediocre, poor results, and then I’ll say to myself, “See? I was right! Can you imagine if I hadn’t micromanaged? I need to step this up even more!”

Micromanaging is a self-fulfilling prophecy, based on the paradigm “My team is incompetent.”

Contrast that with the paradigm “My team is talented and highly capable.” With this paradigm, I trust my team to do their jobs. I see mistakes—which are inevitable for all of us, by the way—as opportunities to learn. This paradigm affects my behavior: I provide resources and support. I let them solve problems using their creativity. I coach them through obstacles. And then we get good or even great results that reinforce the paradigm of my team being highly skilled.

How to Change a Micromanaging Paradigm

If you realize you might have a tendency to micromanage on occasion, try this brief exercise. Write down the reasons you think you need to micromanage your team. Now sort your reasons into facts and opinions (the facts list is usually much shorter!).

Your list might look like this:

Facts:

Sarah missed her last deadline.

I know how to use this software, and my team hasn’t learned it yet.

Opinions:

Derek doesn’t manage people well.

I can’t afford any mistakes—this project is too important.

It will go faster if I do it myself.

It’s human nature: people goof off when their manager isn’t watching.

If I show Sam exactly how to do this task, then he’ll do it better next time.

You don’t necessarily need to throw out all your opinions—they might be true! But this exercise helps you assess them for accuracy. For each of your opinions, ask, What if I considered a different opinion? How would I act differently? Would I get better results?

For example, let’s examine “If I show Sam exactly how to do this task, then he’ll do it better next time.” An alternative could be“Showing Sam how to do this task will actually preventhim from learning.” That new paradigm might lead me to behave differently: perhaps coaching Sam on where to find resources and letting him learn the task himself, while periodically checking in. As result, Sam would be better prepared to do this task in the future.

Want to Change Your Team? Change Yourself First

When I teach about paradigms, people often nod in agreement, then immediately talk about all the people who need to changetheirparadigms. We default to trying to change others, rather than starting with ourselves—then we don’t have to look in the mirror.

Micromanagers often fall into the same trap: “If my team would change, then I wouldn’t have to micromanage them!” But resist the temptation to simply tell other people how to behave; instead, look at your own behavior first. Ask yourself, “What can I do differently to get better results through my team? Am I modeling the change I want to see?”

You’ll get a chance to give your team specific, directive feedback in time, but often, you’ll only get that chance after you’ve modeled the very thing you want them to do. Address the issue first through coaching, supporting, and recognizing their great accomplishments. You’ll have a much greater likelihood of getting the behavior change you want, if you start with yourself.

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