We’ve heard it a thousand times. “Good leaders don’t micromanage.” Honestly, most of us have heard these words from our managers. My obsessive-compulsive tendencies have earned me the appellations of “control freak” and “meddler” and probably some even less flattering terms that weren’t said to my face.
But of course, leaders need to be involved in both direction and process since they are ultimately responsible for outcomes. Effective leaders have the ability to strike a balance between participation and delegation; they engender creativity, autonomy, respect and accountability in their managers but also guide, monitor and support progress.
My friend Jack owns an engineering company and does quite well for himself. He prided himself on a “Silicon Valley” work environment that allowed flexibility, latitude with decisions, and a casual environment. He trusted his staff because he invested the time and energy to build quality relationships and then permitted and encouraged independence. His role was to travel and engage clients, advertise his firm’s outstanding accomplishments and promote his business. Jack was stunned when he heard rumblings of discontent from his staff who felt he wasn’t engaged in the firm. Jack’s mistake set him back temporarily but created a teaching moment. He realized the he couldn’t abdicate his responsibility to lead; he needed to provide direction, communicate expectations, check-in on progress, and gauge his involvement going forward.
How do we differentiate between managing and micromanaging? Clearly it is not only what you do, but how your staff feels when you do it. Regardless of your legitimate desire to guide and monitor progress, if you fail to support, respect and encourage your team, they will feel you distrust them. Your staff understands the work they do, but I believe leaders can often help remove barriers or add fresh eyes to ongoing projects.
So how do messages from a leader cascade down throughout the organization perceived as guidance rather than distrust or lack of confidence? I try to remember that people crave autonomy, enjoy the freedom to lead innovation, and wish to make their own decisions. For those of us who believe it’s important to lead by example, we need to remember that delegation empowers managers to “lead” and leaves time for us to focus on the panoramic view and guide the direction of the organization. Our role is to manage the people and ensure a successful outcome. We need time to strategize and think.
Even the most talented manager will struggle if communication between a leader and manager is inconsistent or unclear; over-communication is rarely a problem. Each of us has a model for management in our own supervisor, hopefully positive, perhaps negative but both useful and each of us can model being a good employee. I have always put a lot of effort into building relationships with both my managers and my supervisors. I try to be the alignment link that can perform honest conversations. Learning each other’s preferences and styles allows both sides to build a relationship that encourages open communication and trust.
Finally, I now know that I needed to fail in order to learn invaluable lessons. Collecting some wins also helped me pinpoint what works. Accomplishment is built on mistakes, those afraid to take risks never fail… and never succeed. As leaders we have to be willing to entrust our team to figure it out, understanding that they may fail. This is modeled for me by my boss who was supportive when I made mistakes. When managers are tasked to complete projects without being told how, they become lifelong learners and are motivated to develop and grow.
I chose to write about this subject because I am constantly tormented by the dilemma of being appropriately involved and still trusting enough to delegate. It’s comforting when I find out that I’m not the only leader who struggles with this predicament. It’s rewarding to see great results, improved processes and growth in people. Being involved shows that you care – you care about the success of the organization and you care about the people you lead.