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Micromanagers Don’t Trust Themselves

by David Brock on July 27th, 2016
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Somehow I get involved in lots of conversations about micromanaging.

These conversations always have the same pattern.  It’s an individual contributor talking about their manager, or a manager talking about a more senior manager—it goes all the way up the food chain, I recently heard of a CEO of a multi-billion organization approving every request for travel and expenditures over $100.

The people are complaining—“It takes so much of my time; I can’t do anything without needing to ask them about it first; I have to report everything I do to them……”

The diatribes usually end in some variant of, “Why doesn’t my manager trust me?”

There is probably some element of distrust involved with micromanagement.

But if you reflect a moment, isn’t it really the micromanager not trusting themselves, their decisions, and their abilities.

After all, that same manager is the person that hired every person in their organization or believes the people in the organization are the right people.

That manager has led in the establishment of the goals, priorities, and the things critical to driving performance.

That manager has put in place the systems, processes, tools, and training to make sure people are working as effectively and efficiently as possible.

That manager has put in place the control and reporting systems to make sure they are getting the information the need to know things are going correctly or to be alerted when things go off target.

If that manager has done their job in doing these things, then they should know they have the right things in place to achieve their goals.  Yes, they have to pay attention to what’s going on.  They have to pay attention to details.

But this attention to details in great leaders involves questioning, probing, learning and understanding.  It is always focused on coaching and developing the capabilities of people and the organization.  It’s based on confidence in the ability of the people they placed in each job, the strategies and priorities they’ve established in the organization.  All their actions, are focused on growing the ability to perform and achieve.

But micromanagers  are different.  While they may not appear to trust their people, their distrust is really rooted in themselves.  Somehow, they lack confidence in what they have done.  They don’t believe they have the right people, they are unsure of the strategies priorities, they don’t know how to deal with the complexities and shifts of everyday business.  They use micromanagement to constantly reaffirm the decisions they have made, not what their people are doing.

Micromanagers will never recognize this or admit it.  They never recognize their own shortcomings and doubts, it’s always externalized to someone else because blame has to be assigned.  Until they trust themselves, they will never trust their people and the strategies that have been put in place.

What’s the solution?  It’s not easy, but it has to come from the micromanager’s manager.  Coaching and development, helping them to understand their micromanagement is based in their own lack of confidence, their inability to be comfortable and trust their own decisions, consequently trust the people they have put in place to execute.  If the micromanager can’t do this, that person will fail.  The scale and the numbers simply go against them.  The higher they are in the organization, the more the organization is put at risk.

Work for a micromanager, you have my sympathy.  If it’s any solace, it’s less about them trusting you and all about them trusting themselves.

If you are a recovering micromanager, recognize it is really about you and your own lack of confidence in your decisions.  Seek other opinions, question, probe, learn.  Leverage your people, peers, and your management to collectively make decisions, set priorities, establish goals.  Their collective engagement should give you greater confidence and trust in what you are doing.

If you are a micromanager, you either aren’t reading this or are clueless that you are a micromanager—so I won’t waste my time.

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