Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Micromanagement ≠ Leadership

I think it was Machiavelli in his Art of War that said "The greatest reward for a fighting man is simply to trust him." That resonated. I'd worked for a long time under a variety of people put in leadership positions. Just being in the position doesn't make someone a leader. The true leaders, the ones that inspired loyalty and dedication, had alls aid, at some point, "You've got this." And let me handle things on my own.

Machiavelli (if I'm attributing it to the right person) specifically applied it to fighters. I don't think that's necessarily true--everyone takes micromanagement as an insult. But it's more explicit in dangerous professions. A firefighter I know is incensed that he has to spend more time in each report documenting his PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) than his job. He showed me one report-- nearly half a page of what equipment he put on and in what order. Barely four lines on extracting the subject from the wrecked car.

When you are entrusted with life or death decisions, being treated like a child throws a huge mixed message.

So here's the deal. If you are a micromanager, you aren't a leader. You aren't even a shitty leader. You're a busybody who likes to feel important by interfering with better people than yourself. If you have employees who need to be watched every second either you need to hire adults or, more likely they aren't the problem.

When you get the micromanager who always finds fault, it is something else. If everything a worker does is wrong, no matter how closely they follow policy or even if they were just following the last set of orders, what's going on isn't even management, micro or otherwise. It is straight-up victim grooming. Creating a field of passive people for the manager's games.

I doubt if most micromanagers realize what they are. Humans are excellent at rationalizing and it's easy to reframe micromanagement as "Being explicit" or "I'm a hands-on guy." But on the tiny chance someone reads this and sees through their own bullshit and decides to change... it won't be easy.

No matter your intentions, all those years of micromanagement have instilled in your people the idea that you don't trust them-- and that they can't trust you. They will literally assume that you turning over a new leaf is a trap. That you will give them enough trust to show some initiative and then will ruthlessly punish them for that initiative.

This easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you change your behavior and don't notice any benefit for a day or a week or a month, it is easy to revert. The reversion just becomes further evidence that your attempt at change was insincere.

Note: Going out of my lane a little, but setting up for the next post, which is about the teaching equivalent of micromanagement.


Danny Martin said...

Perhaps I am being a bit of a devil's advocate here, but I feel I must present an opposing viewpoint on this.
Let me ask you a question:
Would you trust another man to fire your weapon for you if you knew that you would be responsible for where the bullets land? What about if you had to stand there while the other side shot back?

If you would, and I posit that if you have ever been in charge of men in a dangerous profession and then had to report to higher ups, that is exactly what you are doing, then what level of conscientious care would be appropriate? It is a show of great faith that a good leader allows someone to act on their own in a situation, but how much experience should they have before you place that faith in them? Micromanagement gets a bad rap from two groups of people: People who don't need it, and people who do.

Unfortunately, the only way to tell one from the other reliably and consistently in a way that is demonstrable to the public and senior leaders within an organization is to apply those same micromanagement principles that you are decrying.

Charles James said...

I was, or so I now believe, a micromanager who thought because of a title was a leader and it only came out in my mind when something terrible happened that literally left no blame on anyone but me. In a nutshell, it took me over a decade to get where I was more comfortable not micromanaging. Here is another rub, it took marriage and getting older, and hopefully wiser, before I was able to truly let go. My last ten years at work and other places were much more productive for both sides so much so that when I recently retired everyone I had contact with in that time came by my desk to talk and say hi along with well wishing for a great retirement. That last ten years showed many who would not come to me even knowing I could help were the ones who came to me to the most, after a time, and sought out my help. I felt good because one coworker actually joked they wanted a cutout of me to sit at my old desk so they could say good morning at weekly meetings.

I just remember how alone my life as a MM got me. I don't believe for a minute it was anyone but me and it wasn't because I mistrusted others but because I lacked confidence in myself along with a huge dose of low esteem at least in work and sometimes play. In short I was an asshole and for the readers know this, like other addictions even today I have to consciously work on it when I am with other people and add in my introversion you get a interesting mix.

This is a great opening to those who allow themselves to actually see.

Kai Jones said...

Some people micromanage with a new person because they got burned with a previous person, but they eventually relax into trust.

Micromanagement is CYA. The need for CYA can come from the past or from above (a bullying supervisor, e.g.), in addition to being a control freak or anxiety (two sides of the same coin, sometimes but not always).

Bryan Leed, Dayton, OH said...

The Dilbert newspaper comic strip has the nameless boss character to represent a stereotype of a clueless boss, which this post reminds me of, clueless bureaucracy.

I have often experienced hassles and frustrations, exactly like getting hassled by the Dilbert boss.

I recently was reading Rory's Chiron Training Volume 2, with the 24 March 2006 entry: "And a general rule for life: You can take yourself seriously or you can take the world seriously but NEVER both at the same time."

Sometimes the situation is so goofed up that all I can do is laugh about how much I'm getting the bad end of this deal. I tell myself that this too shall pass. That's my strategy lately.

Jim said...

I agree with Rory; the best leaders and supervisors I've had in law enforcement have been the ones who stayed out of the way, and let me work. As a supervisor now -- I try to give my people the room they need to work. I don't show up on every call, and if I do, and it's their call, and everything is going in a good direction (even if it's not the way I would have done it... or perhaps especially if it's not the way I would have done it) I keep my mouth shut.

To Danny Martin's point about responsibility and accountability to higher ups... It comes from knowing your people and knowing what matters. The rook just off field training? Yeah, I'm showing up on more of their calls, I'm sticking around on their traffic stops even if "they're fine", leading them along the process of figuring out how to handle a call. The vet that's been in patrol since they carried slingshots while riding dinosaurs? Probably not going to show up often unless they call for me, just enough to know what they're doing and how they work... unless it's a call that I'd better be able to explain to the brass. Most -- it's somewhere in the middle. Back 'em on calls, but I don't need to be in their back pocket, either.

In short -- I treat them they way I liked to be treated, based on what they've shown me they can do.

barbara said...

I believe the good place for "micro" is in training. look at whatever you have to learn in every detail, from every side, practically and theoretically, in your training.

but one day the time has come to do the job, and an institution needs enough trust in its training program and the people it trains to let them do the work without too much hindrance.