Employees across all industries complain about micromanagement. In my work as a business consultant and leadership coach, micromanaging surpasses all other complaints. It is one of the quickest ways to shut down productivity, creative minds, and passionate employees. And it’s one of the leading reasons why employees flee a company.
Micromanagers are not deliberately trying to cause distress in the workplace even though the outcomes are usually fed-up employees and burnout. In fact, people who micromanage rarely intend to disempower those they supervise. They often mean well and don’t realize the extent of their negative impact on others.
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Micromanagers are often people who were thrust into leadership or management simply because they are good at their jobs, yet they may know nothing about leading or managing people. Sometimes a lack of people skills compounds the challenge. It’s easy to cannibalize leadership through micromanaging when a person feels ill-equipped in their role because of a lack of training or support.
These shortcomings can also be magnified by not knowing how to empower others. Micromanagers often don’t know what it means to lead from a place of authenticity.
What Is Micromanagement?
Let’s first get clear on what micromanagement means.
Micromanagement is a style of management that seeks to excessively direct and control employees to obtain immediate results through over-involvement, exaggerating details, measuring progress frequently, and obsessing over information gathering.
To create a successful company, there must be a blend of autonomy and connected teamwork. Both of these are disrupted continually by a micromanager. Below are common reasons why too much control is counterproductive.
7 Reasons to Replace Micromanagement with Respect and Empowerment
There are many reasons why micromanaging can be detrimental to an organization and why it needs to be replaced with empowering, authentic leadership:
- Employees feel mistrusted when a manager or leader micromanages. This sentiment weakens their autonomy and causes self-directed employees to doubt themselves.
- Controlling employees fosters passivity and dependency while eroding trust and confidence.
- A micromanaging leadership style increases employee turnover and management burnout.
- Watchdogging employees full-time is impossible and exhausting for the leadership team; it is unsustainable and unscalable for a company’s growth and expansion.
- Micromanaging destroys independent thinking and creativity. It inhibits learning and innovation.
- Talented employees refuse to work in a workplace where they lack freedom and are denied self-initiative.
- Being micromanaged also splinters teamwork because success is dependent on the approval of the micromanager.
Plenty of reasons to manage and lead differently, agreed? As Ron Friedman, a psychologist and behavioral change expert specializing in human motivation has said, "Micromanagement is the motivational equivalent of buying on credit. Enjoy a better product now, but pay a hefty price for it later." When you micromanage, what you don't realize in the moment is the cost you pay. And truth be told, often you may not even get a better product or service due to damaged relationships and resentment build-up in employees.
Related reading: “Micromanage Me,” Said No Employee. EVER.”
So, if control isn’t the answer, what is? Being a leader who instills and inspires confidence, trust, and success requires a blend of empowerment and guidance.
What Is Authentic Leadership?
So, where does authentic leadership come into play? And how can you know the difference when you’re controlling instead of empowering employees? Let’s first examine the meaning of authentic.
As it’s used today, the word authentic has three common meanings:
1) being aligned with one’s values
2) being sincere in interactions
3) being true to oneself
You may not be fascinated by etymology (the study of the origins of words and their meanings) like I am. Yet, in this case, knowing the origins of the words authentic and sincere leads to a rich understanding of authenticity.
Authentic comes from the Greek root authentes meaning “acting on one’s own authority.” If we act on our inner authority, we lead ourselves according to our values and morality rather than reacting to circumstances. Authentic leaders, therefore, are intrinsically motivated.
The word sincere, which is often associated with being authentic, also has an interesting beginning. According to The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins volume that my husband gifted me years ago, sincere dates back to the quarries where the legendary sculptor Michelangelo worked. At that time, if a marble block was flawed, the Roman quarrymen would rub wax on it to conceal the flaws. Eventually, the Roman Senate decreed that no wax was to be used on marble. The term they used was sine cera, meaning “without wax,” which eventually became our word sincere, meaning “without deception, clean, pure, and sound.”
Therefore, an authentic leader leads from within, acts sincerely and honestly, and is a stable and consistent guide to others. Authentic leadership comes from a person who has a mature, integrated self with high emotional intelligence. By contrast, when a leader controls others by micromanaging, they are applying wax to hide their leadership flaws.
Micromanagement Versus Authentic Leadership
MICROMANAGEMENT HABIT #1
Leaders who micromanage point out what’s wrong instead of giving helpful direction and encouragement.
Most people who micromanage are concerned about quality but can be obsessive about a level of perfection that doesn’t exist. A micromanager feels like they’re being helpful but instead are maintaining control by finding fault.
Most employees are adults who are there to do their job —and do it well. Treating employees like children who must be watched and told what to do every minute is annoying and belittling. A micromanager criticizes so they can maintain a power dynamic, keeping employees on the defensive.
Because a micromanager’s attention is placed on what’s wrong instead of what employees do well, employees’ pride in their work gets replaced by reactivity and defensiveness. Micromanagement fosters dependency and helplessness in employees and teams because nothing they do is ever good enough, so they often stop trying—or quit.
Control never works. Micromanaging is autocratic leadership that disavows the abilities of others; employees are treated like blocks of marble that the leader must put wax in to cover imperfections.
AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP HABIT #1
An authentic leader gives specific and helpful feedback to encourage learning, improve performance, and enhance the quality of the work, product, or service.
When employees receive meaningful and actionable feedback, they can improve both their performance and their confidence. Thoughtful information given to employees and teams also increases morale and encourages initiative. Learning how to give effective feedback is crucial for successful leaders.
MICROMANAGEMENT HABIT #2
Everything is urgent to a micromanager.
One behavior that is extremely detrimental to companies is treating everything in the workplace as an emergency. No matter what an employee is working on or how important it is, the micromanager will jerk them from one task to another task that seems more pressing.
When a manager or leader is too immersed in everyday work activities (hint, hint: tasks that are the employees’ responsibility), they may truly believe that they are needed for things to run smoothly. So they think they must be everywhere at once. This behavior results in quick, ineffective interactions and half-baked directives that are often not thought through. When this happens, employees feel pulled in many directions, waste an inordinate amount of time, and feel defeated by conflicting directions and the inability to finish projects.
AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP HABIT #2
All directives and actions are rooted in a larger vision, mission, and well-thought-out plan.
There are no careless words or half-hazarded directives from an authentic leader. They know the power of their impact and don’t take responsibility lightly. When they are upset, they regulate themselves before acting. They realize the importance of an environment where employees can be their best, give their best, and make a difference. Therefore, their instructions are thought through and provide purpose to fuel results.
MICROMANAGEMENT HABIT #3
Micromanagers are often ensconced in the “too busy” syndrome.
Those who micromanage often act frazzled and overwhelmed. Employees who enter the zone of their “busy” tornado are hit with a whirlwind. The micromanager spins off anyone or anything that enters their vortex, sputtering phrases like: “My plate is too full,” “I’m so busy!” “I’m overwhelmed,” “I have too much to do.” Why do they feel this way? Because they’re dabbling in everyone else’s work, leaving little time for their own responsibilities and leadership opportunities. They consistently give off the “too busy” vibe, sending a message that they can’t be bothered with questions or assistance yet leave confusion in their wake.
This behavior disempowers those who are capable of helping and discourages employees whose efforts are earnest. Employees hear the message that they are inept and “that’s why I must micromanage you.”
AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP HABIT #3
Authentic leaders are masterful time managers and do not impose their stress on others.
When leading from a centered place, an authentic leader’s time is well used and maximized through effective delegation. They manage their energy efficiently, practice self-care so they can lead with their best selves, and provide adequate structure with clearly defined goals for employees to be successful.
To discover the power of authentic leadership, try a brain-based leadership online course.
MICROMANAGEMENT HABIT #4
Control trumps relationships.
One who seeks to control is uninterested in employees as people; they only assert power and maintain control. A micromanager is too focused on babysitting others to recognize that they are depleting the working relationship and breeding resentment through their actions. Wherever there is micromanagement, you will find strained relationships, worn-out employees, and people who don’t think the manager cares about anything but “their way or the highway.”
AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP HABIT #4
Authentic leaders make relationships the foundation of all great accomplishments.
An authentic leader is interested not only in the well-being of employees but also cares about them as people. Because they carry confidence in themselves, they lead from a sense of authentic power that lifts others. They don’t need to put others down to lift themselves up. They are attuned to the quality of their relationships. Authentic leaders actively seek to nurture all work relationships: company owners, board members, fellow leaders, employees, prospects or customers, and vendors.
Related reading: “Top 3 Mindsets Managers Need to Be Successful.”
Moving Away from Micromanaging: Ways to Be an Authentic Leader
How does one replace a controlling management style with authentic leadership? And what are the differences between controlling and leading? What are the habits of successful leaders?
Let’s explore some of the specific actions of authentic leaders.1 Get curious about what motivates employees.
Are they motivated by the completion of a job well done? Or by the creative process? Is it that they love working with others and collaborating? Or is it the challenge of the work? Every person has intrinsic reasons that drive them. Tune into that goldmine, and you have your greatest motivator!
2 Know the difference between thoughts, opinions, and hidden
expectations from the FACTS.
Thoughts and opinions are not facts. Ask questions to ensure you are not making assumptions that could distort your conclusions about your employees and their work. Ask yourself:
- “What meaning am I assigning to the employee’s behavior?
”For example, an employee’s lack of follow-through could be construed as “they don’t care” when in fact, the employee needs more training or is struggling with a problem at home.
- “What are other ways to look at the situation?”
- “What experience with this employee could be coloring my perspective?
3 Use words as a powerful resource and tool.
Many leaders underestimate the power of their words. Words can discourage or encourage. Words can demean or inspire. Words are a modern-day sword, a tool for leading people to their most significant work and their best selves. You must be deliberate in your conversations and directives. A few well-chosen words can have far more impact than the most elegant speech.
Related reading: “9 Things Great Leaders Say Every Day.”
One of the most common mistakes that leaders make is to treat employees like children. No one wants to be treated like a child. Even if employees are acting immaturely (which they can do), they’re really asking for guidance, limits, or engagement from leaders.
“Today’s top-performing organizations are leaving [the micromanagement] style of Parent-Child leadership behind and replacing it with a new model of leadership that treats employees like adults who have unlimited potential and who deserve the opportunity to take control of their own futures. Establishing an Adult-to-Adult dynamic encourages employees to become self-leading and self-sufficient and results in a more motivated, fulfilled, and energized workforce. Employees are more aligned with their organization’s vision and more committed to helping the organization achieve that vision.” ~Mark Murphy
If leaders treat employees as adults capable of managing themselves, there would be no need to micromanage. People can live up to a leader’s belief in them, but they will also spiral downward when they think the company does not value them.
Go ahead. Take one of the recommendations above and try them on for size.
Remember that there are no bad employees, only discouraged employees. And there are no bad managers or leaders, only unskilled and overwhelmed ones. Please be kind to yourself as you increase self-awareness and put the spotlight on improvement. As you seek to replace micromanagement with empowerment, keep in mind that the desire to do better is the first step.
And if you'd really like to dig in, try the brain-based leadership course.