January 10, 2024
By Dave Bushy, PCC
As I begin to work with new clients ranging from manager to the C-suite, they often assure me, and in the process no doubt assure themselves, “I’m not a micromanager…”
I probe. What do they experience when saying those words? It turns out that, for some leaders, even the hint of a style that sounds at all like “micro-management” somehow demonstrates a character fault or a weakness that needs to be cured.
“What does micromanagement mean to you?” I might ask as a lead-in question.
“Well, to begin with, you know, butting into everyone’s business, trying to stay on top of everything.”
“Probably trying to take control of every aspect of the business.”
“Well, likely doing their jobs for them.”
“So that’s your description of micro-management, is that right?”
“And I get it that you work hard not to do that. Okay, so tell me how you lead.”
The conversation can flow a number of ways, and often I hear about the many details the boss is responsible for, the projects their team is engaged in and the daily challenges they face. Responsibility can range from strategic initiatives one day, to fine-tuning the annual budget the next as well as engaging in one-on-ones where they can coach and mentor their subordinates.
“So you see a lot, from the big stuff – the macro stuff, to the little things – the micro ones. How in the world do you manage all of that?”
“Well, I stay abreast of what the challenges are and I try to know what my people are doing. And I want to see how they do it so I can give them feedback.”
“So how about I give you another term that might support your effort? How much do you ‘micro-know’ versus “micro-manage?’”
“It strikes me that micro-knowing is a critical part of a boss’s job.” I might say, followed by: “How does that sound for you?”
“I like that. Ultimately, I’m responsible for the department and I need to know what’s going on. And I do need to make some decisions and effectively zoom in when necessary and the rest of the time zoom out and let my team get the job done.”
“Here’s a question – tell me about a time when you feel good about zooming in and taking control of a situation.”
“Well, when I know how a decision has huge strategic implications and can affect a long-standing customer. I might have all the pieces from the many levels of the organization and need to jump in”
“And how comfortable are you to effectively micro-manage that situation?”
“I have to be – a lot of dollars and time could be lost if I don’t intervene.”
“And tell me about a time when you don’t feel good about zooming in and taking control?”
“A lot of times, especially when there are opportunities for my team to grow and learn. And especially when my solution is not the only way to handle the situation. And ultimately when the team has decided on a direction that inspires them and will achieve a level of success. I take joy in that.”
“So it seems to me that you have the ability to be micro, to zoom out to be macro, and to know when you have to do so. You do it with intention and you make a choice. So how do you feel about micro-management now?”
A smile, and then, “It’s not always the wrong thing to do, and the need to ‘micro-know” is almost always important, because it provides me the knowledge and perspective to act with intention.”
Like so much else in our lives, our choices can have a wide range. Knowing what we are choosing to do, why, and when provides us the ability to expand our range as people and as leaders.
Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – bostonexecutivecoaches.com – is a an ICF-certified coach who was trained at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC). Dave is a former U.S. Army officer and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout the world.