How to know if you're a micromanager—and what to do about it

HBR: These four strategies can make you a better manager

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, executive coach Murial Maignan Wilkins outlines key signs that someone is a micromanager—and four steps to give up the habit and become a better manager.

"If you're like most micromanagers, you probably don't even know that you're doing it," says Wilkins. She outlines some key signs of micromanaging, including:

  • You're never really satisfied with deliverables.
  • You regularly feel frustrated because you would have performed a task differently.
  • You take great pride in correcting details.
  • You want to know what all your team members are up to at all times.
  • You want to be cc'ed on all emails.
  • You ask for frequent updates.

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Micromanaging can have a significant negative effect on team morale and productivity. Wilkins offers four strategies to help managers stop micromanaging their staff:

1. Stop excusing your micromanaging. Wilkins suggests that managers focus on reasons why they shouldn't micromanage a project, rather than excuses for why they should.

2. Learn to let it go. Wilkins writes, "The difference between managing and micromanaging is the focus on the 'micro.'" It's important to let go of the minutia, and the key is to do this in phases. For example, a manager can look at his or her to-do list and delegate the "low-hanging fruit" to another member of the team. Also, managers should identify their biggest priorities and ensure that they are spending the most amount of time on these, rather than on the details.

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3. Set up expectations, but don't dictate how to reach them. Managers should establish expectations for a final deliverable. However, they should not dictate how team members should get that result. "Don't give blow-by-blow instructions on how to get there," Wilkins writes. It can help to ask a team member how they plan to accomplish something, rather than tell them how to do it.

4. Set your direct reports up for success. "Underlying your need to micromanage is a fear of failure," Wilkins writes, explaining, "By magnifying the risk of failure, your employees engage in 'learned helplessness' where they start believing that the only way they can perform is if you micromanage them." Instead, managers should give their reports the resources and support that they need to meet clearly defined parameters for "success."

Overall, Wilkins says, "with a commitment to focus on the big picture and on motivating your employees, you can redirect your efforts to be the most effective manager you can be" (Wilkins, Harvard Business Review, 11/11).

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