“I’ve been a manager for a long time but I’ve been recently promoted to a higher level position, which I have wanted for a while. But I realize now that to be successful in this new position, I need to learn how to develop more vision and big-picture thinking. I have been criticized in the past for being too detail-oriented and too much of a micro-manager. How do I learn to back off, let go and focus on the bigger things?”
Recognizing the problem is an important first step to solving it. Micro-managing-defined as paying extreme attention to details and not giving people the authority to do their jobs-happens for a variety of reasons, writes Marcia Zidle, a leadership development consultant.
One contributing factor, for example, is fear.
“In today’s difficult economy, managers live in perpetual fear that their department better produce or else,” she writes. “This fear drives them to micro-manage, rather than trust their employees.”
Another factor is a misguided belief about what really works.
“Many managers think their success is based on amassing as much power as possible. They therefore do not allow their employees to make decisions by themselves because they would be giving up their own power,” Zidle writes. “However, the more management allows employees to make decisions, the more powerful the entire organization will be.”
Micro-managing is contagious too. If the CEO or president of the organization micro-manages his or her direct staff, then the staff will adopt the same management style with their people and the whole problem trickles down through the organization, she writes. The practice spreads or “mirrors itself.”
What to do? The need to control is at the heart of micro-managing. And Bobbie Goheen, president of Synthesis Management Group in Rochester, suggests that you try to shift that need for control in a different direction.
“If you’re going to control, then control in a way that brings success for everyone,” she says.
She suggests that you take a process approach to addressing the problem. Ask your key customers, both internal and external, for example, what they love about what they do. Then have that same conversation with your staff, she says. And you can ask them such questions as ‘What have we done well as a team? What do you think we need to do to be stronger performers for ourselves and the company? What do you need from me as a manager to help you move in that direction?’
Then have the same conversation with your peers, vendors, suppliers and others, inside or outside the company, who are involved with your team’s work.
“You can ask, ‘What do you think this team is strong at? What could we add or improve to be better?'”
Take all the information and look for the common themes, Goheen says. Then try to get it down to two or three sentences to develop a “full, meaningful vision” that everyone can buy into.
“You will be helping the group identify what the real issues are and ensure alignment on all decisions and activities so they match the goals of the company.”
By following this process, you will set the stage for defining your new role.
“What are the metrics of being a manager vs. being a technical doer so you are able to delegate with ease? That way, you will spend more time developing people than solving problems.”
The next crucial piece then is making sure the team consistently meets or exceeds its objectives without you doing any of the work.
“That is the hard part,” she says.
The goal is for you to set clear goals, communicate them consistently, work to ensure customer satisfaction and let your people do their work.
“That doesn’t mean not helping when there’s a fire,” Goheen says. “But you will need to distinguish between a fire that needs to be put out and feeling the need to do something.”
The challenge is “removing the road blocks” where they may exist and resisting the urge to think that you can do it better than your staff, she says. If you’re in the habit of hovering over details, you’ll need to learn to “hover differently.”
“Stop hovering over the details and start to hover to give feedback,” she says. “What you want to do is shift control to ensure that you create the environment where people can thrive.”
This is not an easy task for a habitual micro-manager and in fact, you may not be able to do it at all. If that occurs, hopefully you will recognize it early. Many successful leaders acknowledge their weaknesses as micro-managers and ask their staffs for help.
“Sometimes (these leaders) let people know that micro-managing can be a strength and a weakness. If it gets in the way of the relationship, they ask their people to let them know.”
It is also important, Goheen says, to remain connected to your staff.
“People want to be with a leader who cares.”
Managers at Work is a bimonthly column exploring the issues and challenges facing managers. Contact Kathleen Driscoll with questions or comments by phone at (585) 249-9295 or by e-mail at [email protected]
06/20/2008 (C) Rochester Business Journal