John Weathington, President & CEO of Excellent Management Systems, Inc.
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Please Don't Stand So Close to Me

Straight-Talk for the Micro-Manager

A manager’s involvement can take two different extremes and the result is terrible on each end. On one side you have the completely uninvolved manager and on the other side you have the micro-manager. You would think that somewhere in the middle is where your management style should land, but you’d actually be wrong.

There’s no argument from me that the uninvolved manager is a disaster. These are the people that never talk to their team, and never know what’s really going on. These are managers that “manage up,” and care more about how they look to upper management than figuring out what’s really going on with their operation. Their projects always end up in the same place—dead in the water. Because of this, they’ve mastered the art of spin control so they don’t look bad when the something fails.

But then there’s the micro-manager. We all know these managers as well. It seems like they don’t have anything else to do but constantly bug you for information. Then once they find out what you’re doing, they always have a “better” way of doing it and insist you do it their way. Of course if it works out it was their idea and if it flops you did something wrong. Their projects actually come in sometimes because of all the focus the manager is paying to the project. However, nothing is a true win when it’s at the expense of the team’s morale.

A manager should:

  • Initiate projects and review highlights from the project manager
  • Analyze issues and risks, and help support the team by mitigating risk
  • Make decisions on scope, time, and cost to bring processes and projects in balance with reality
  • Share and communicate effectively with the team
  • Assign resources to tasks based on resource availability
  • Protect the team from outside influences and interferences
  • Inspire the team, and keep morale up

A manager should NOT:

  • Tell team resources how to do their job
  • Probe team resources for information on how they’re doing their job
  • Demand or negotiate estimates of work to be completed
  • Argue with stakeholders on what the requirements are
  • Redo other peoples work

Actually, there’s nothing wrong with the micro-manager’s level of involvement—it’s their style of involvement that’s the problem. A micro-manager becomes a bad manager when they cross the line on what their role and responsibility is.

In general everybody has a role on the team. Stakeholders provide requirements to the team which may be further coalesced and analyzed by analysts. Specialists do project and process activities and estimate how long activities will take. Managers communicate expectations, make important decisions, support the team, and generally facilitate projects and processes through to completion. When roles get crossed, as what happens with the typical micro-manager, things get confusing and frustrating.

So if you get the sense that you’re a micro-manager, my advice to you is this. Maintain the high level of involvement; however focus more on clearing obstacles and less on telling people how to do their job. Trust your team to do what they do best, and support them at every crossing. In the end, they’ll support you back by bringing in successful projects and running smooth operations: not because they have to, but because they want to.