The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

April 6, 2011

Yes to Micromanaging – Rarely

By Steve Motenko

In leading management trainings at The Boeing Company, I used to teach about work styles.  People approach their work and their interactions in very different ways.  But I’d tell the aerospace managers that regardless of the employee’s work style, there’s one management behavior everyone hates:  micromanaging.

It makes sense:  If you micromanage me, you take away my autonomy.  You take away my creativity.  You take away my motivation.  You take away my pride in my efforts.  We need all those in our work.  We need all those in our lives.

But there are a few scenarios – and they should always be short-term – in which micromanaging is appropriate.

  1. In building a new team, or orienting a new team member – to set clear expectations, to teach new skills, to foster specific, critical behaviors. But it’s got to be temporary – if you’re still on “emergency rule” 30 years down the line, expect a revolution.
  2. To correct bad employee behavior.  If things are going wrong, and you thought you’d been clear on the expectations, then brief micromanaging might uncover and resolve what’s not working.
  3. When the deadline pressure or performance pressure on you from above is so intense that you have no choice.  Even in this case, though, micromanaging should be minimized – and, again, you should promise the team it’ll be temporary.
  4. To really piss people off.  Because if it doesn’t fit one of the above three scenarios, nobody will like you as a boss, nobody will respect you as a boss, and people will leave at the first chance.

In all but the above situations, if you find yourself micromanaging often, your leadership is breaking down – perhaps because:

  • your employees don’t have the skills they should have – bad hires or bad training;
  • your team doesn’t have the systems and processes they need to thrive;
  • you don’t have enough trust in your direct reports;
  • you need, for the sake of your ego, to play the hero, the savior, or the dictator

About the Author

Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

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