July 13, 2023
By Dave Bushy, PCC
It began somewhere in the annals of history – maybe it was Napoleon or Julius Caesar. A leader who felt accused of focusing on every aspect of what their people were doing reflexively blurted out, “I don’t micro-manage!”
For some leaders today, it might be true – for others it could be that they have done it at times. And for most it is likely a fear or concern that they might succumb to it and make it a habit, as so many of their previous bosses have done.
We all can learn to graduate from micromanagement.
In coaching, we ask questions to help our clients explore their own behaviors and way of working with others. Often, we uncover patterns for those with whom we work and help them make meaning of them. And then we help them try new approaches to how they work with others to see how they can expand their range.
A common pattern I have seen emerges from this scenario: A leader is promoted and continues to do the job functions he or she did in the previous role. Or the company grows so much that they find themselves in senior leadership, without the benefit of progressing through the leadership ranks. At some point, they hire someone to fill in or find a replacement. The leader sets out to train and mentor the new person. Weeks and sometimes months go by and the following dialogue can ensue in a coaching session:
“How’s the new director doing?”
“She’s exceptionally bright and highly motivated. But she just doesn’t know how to do the job yet.”
“Please tell me more.”
“Well, I work with her to map out the week and do things like put staff meeting agendas together for her, based on the projects we have going.
“That sounds like you’re really engaging with her. What else?”
“Well, when she holds her staff meetings I sit in and make sure she asks the right questions and find that I have to jump in make sure that we get the commitment from my people… of course I mean my old team.”
“And how long have you been doing this?”
“It’s only been a few months. I think she’ll be ready to go solo in a few more.”
I pause for a long time …. I sense discomfort from my client. Then I might ask: “And what is your long-term plan and how are you going to try doing it?”
“I know what you’re thinking? You think I micro-manage?”
“Why do you think that?”
From such sessions emerge a common theme: A sense that letting go can’t happen until the time is right. A belief that things have to be done the way you have done them in the past. And a feeling that the person, or people, you have hired just aren’t up to the task.
In reflecting with clients, I often ask them what they see as the consequences of their current behavior and what choices they might make in changing that behavior. Answers emerge, including discomfort with change, and concern that the organization might fail if they let the subordinates work largely unsupervised.
That’s where the idea of “trying” something can emerge. We begin with baby steps for the leader. I ask:
“Pick a project or presentation that might not directly affect the quality concerns you see. Can you think of one?”
“Well, yes I can. We need to organize the leadership offsite, but it may be complicated for her.”
“Would you be willing to assign the project, along with a deadline and then let her run with it?”
We discuss it further and the client tells me how it could work and then commits: “I think I could do that.”
New ideas and approaches emerge from coaching and helping the client try them out – and then holding them accountable – that’s the beautiful part of coaching.
Napoleon might be proud.
Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – bostonexecutivecoaches.com – is a an ICF-certified coach who was trained at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC). He is a former U.S.
Army officer and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout the world.