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.

19 comments:

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.

Danny Martin said...

Jim, you raise an excellent point, one clearly informed by experience, and yet... here is something else to consider. Some of the most controversial killings in law enforcement in recent times are NOT being done by rookies, but by experienced officers who made mistakes or failed to keep calm during difficult situations.

Consider the Terence Crutcher and Philando Castile shootings. They both LOOK, to a rational observer, like they were handled by panicky rookies, but the experience levels of the officers involved give that the lie. Yet, both shootings were an utter DISASTER for their respective departments.
The officers involved were charged with criminal conduct, the departments will or already have, pay out massive settlements, and at the end of the day, it is the supervisors, chiefs and others in positions of power who will be held accountable. With all of that on the table, why should it not seem reasonable for those on the scene to be held to a similar standard of accountability?

Let me try and phrase this another way. Where should we, as a society, draw the line between people who should be micromanaged and people who shouldn't? Another question is: Where is the line between micromanagement and conscientious care as a leader?

Is it a reflection of the feelings of your subordinates or the requirements of your superiors?

Josh K. said...

One Minute Manager.

For an Outlined system for not micro managing people.

Josh K. said...

How is adding a lay of bureaucracy onto someone untrust worthy to do something make them trust worthy to do it.

Are those micro managers going to be the ones to make the call in the moment.

Policy and procedure is just a poor substitute for good judgment.

Danny Martin said...

"How is adding a lay of bureaucracy onto someone untrust worthy to do something make them trust worthy to do it?"

It doesn't. But if the job has to be done, you use who you have on hand. Failing to keep a good accounting of your people's activities because "you trust them" in a modern workplace where people change jobs more than they change outfits sometimes, is a non-starter as an argument.

I will read that book you mentioned and see what it has to say on the matter. That being said, consider that so-called micromanagement does not ALWAYS have to be used for accountability purposes. That is the thing that comes to my mind first, but the truth is, far more often you should be using the same exact skill-set and methodologies to deliver recognition to those employees who are doing a great job day-in and day-out.

My issue is, when someone says they trust an employee to accomplish x task, my response is usually "Based on what, SPECIFICALLY do you trust this person?" And if their only answer is anecdotal rather than data driven, then there is a problem in the organization.

Josh K. said...

Your assumption is that to keep peeple accountable you have to hover overthem to make sure it gets done. This doesn't mean you shouldn't touch base with your subordinate periodically, but that is different than constently hoverring over them.

With SOP and work flow instructions after their initial training, if they are not able to do their job without constent instruction, you shouldn't be waisting time and company resource paying them to do a job they are not actually doing.

If they can not be trusted. My are they doing anything. The time you are standing overthem is time you could be just doing it yourself or doing something else.

Think of it this way micromanagment is basicly two people doing the job of one person.

Jim said...

Danny,
You ask "Where should we, as a society, draw the line between people who should be micromanaged and people who shouldn't? Another question is: Where is the line between micromanagement and conscientious care as a leader?

Is it a reflection of the feelings of your subordinates or the requirements of your superiors?"

The reality is that the odds are that no supervisor is likely to be on the scene when something like that happens. Most likely, they'll be responding after the fact. Occasionally you know when something is likely, and you do your best to stack the deck for success. Both cases you mentioned, as well as many others, are cases where things went south in instants. But -- if you know your people, you know how your officers will handle stress, and when you better be heading to the scene before something happens.

The challenge for a supervisor is balancing giving people enough room to work -- and enough support to work as well. That's one reason that I feel being a field training instructor is a very strong point for later supervisory promotion -- and FTI has to give the rookie in training room to grow into someone they want to work alongside without crushing them under the "do it my ways!"

Then there's the whole "what does the command staff want?" question... but, honestly, a lot of that takes care of itself IF you actually know your people -- their strengths and weaknesses.

Danny Martin said...

I appreciate your well thought out answers. It certainly is a balancing act when you have to supervise others. I just think that people who have not had to supervise in LARGE organizations with diverse and distributed workforces, all too often dismiss the value of metrics, close supervision, and ongoing heuristic quality monitoring, as micromanagement, when they are simply the needed tools for working in a highly regulated environment with a large workforce.

You cannot say that because person x has completed training y they are trustworthy to do job z because there are NO training programs that I have ever seen that actually reflect DOING the job on a day-in and day-out basis. There are very few training programs that even accurately measure and develop the same ATTRIBUTES needed to do the job day-in and day-out.
Police training is a perfect example. A huge amount of it is dedicated to being able to be a police officer in a crisis. A comparatively smaller amount is dedicated to the day to day minutia of DOING the job most of the time, when it ISN't a crisis. For example, how many CE hours for most officers are dedicated to things like finishing a bachelors degree, going to law school, being a good witness, or even things like Conflict Communications, as opposed to how many are dedicated to things like active shooter response, firearms training, defensive tactics training, on and on.

To look at it another way, if training were sufficient without ongoing monitoring, then you wouldn't have the culture in many departments of hazing new officers as if they didn't know anything when they went through the same training those doing the hazing did.
The fact that such hazing exists, is evidence of a training gap. As long as training gaps exist, and gaps between training and organizational goals exist, then the need for ongoing monitoring exists.

Danny Martin said...

And, in retrospect, my comment has the grammatical consistency of a drunken Xanthian ogre, so please assume I put question marks where they seem appropriate, or hilarious to you, whatever. :)

Josh K. said...

Danny there is a difference between standing over someone sholders and micromanaging them and monerterimg them checking in with them and holding them acountable for the quality of their work.

Jim said...

Just getting a chance to get back to this, so I know there's a delay.

Danny Martin talked about training vs hazing. There is a different purpose between training and gentle hazing; it's almost an asocial/social breakdown, as I think about it. Training is asocial; it's goal oriented of providing the recruit in training the tools to do the job. It's how to do this, some whys and wherefores, with (depending on the environment) an initial general socialization into the broader organization and profession. Sure, a recruit class bonds into a social unit, but the end goal is that they graduate with the tools to go out onto the street.

The hazing that takes place out of the academy, at the station level, is about bringing the rookie officer into the social unit of the department or station. That's why it almost always takes place during roll calls, meals, or other times when the team is together. It's both the vets and the rooks learning how they fit into the organization on a personal -- not personnel -- level. The FTI's job is to continue the academy's goal of training and evaluating in the real world (training wheels vs working in a lab), while balancing the socialization (and occasionally protecting from abuse.)

Then there's the issue of metrics... Metrics and monitoring tools are necessary in any job, of course! Some jobs have clearer metrics than others (how do you measure performance when doing it right means nothing happens?), but every job has to have some sort of standard for how it's performed. I'm jumping ahead, because I've read Rory's follow-up to this post, but you can have positive metrics or negative metrics -- and you can reward them positively or negatively. For example, write 2 tickets a day is a clear, positive metric. It's something someone can do, and you can punish them for not doing so (worst beat, least pleasant tasks, etc) or you can reward them (extreme -- I know one agency that can, occasionally, when conditions permit, send an officer home early with pay; some supervisors there will periodically use that to encourage meeting a goal, like first officer to 20 tickets leaves because the higher ups have demanded more traffic enforcement). Or you can slam an officer on evaluations for not writing tickets, making contacts, etc. When practical, I prefer to reward what I want to see, and avoid punishing what I don't. But I know other supervisors who live to write people up... Funny, nobody likes to work for them.

Richard Lander said...

An old tactic/strategy is to muddy the waters to catch a fish. Of course life is pretty muddy all ready hence Daoist spend their life meditating to clear the waters. For anyone in the middle of action to perform well they need to be best prepared and provided for. We operate in muddy waters of many factors including politics. As a Sargent(or equivalent) you are working with what you have. The more time before an incident you have the better you can improve the position of the one in the middle. Continuous improvement being the bureaucratic buzz word. There are though many factors and effectors to deal with that without the higher ups setting things up well the one in the middle and the Sargent are going to under-perform and in the discussed situations they can be fatal. Blaming the workers can never be 100% correct as they need to be prepared and provided for well. As many people in higher levels somehow got their job! and lack understanding themselves while working in muddy waters they are unlikely to perform well themselves.

For the real workers then they become the victims of 'management'. When it is bad something goes wrong and the blame game starts. The best operators in the blame game will win.

Management is a process that needs to be practiced and performed well. There are many tools to aid the process and any tool can be misused, many managers and directors do not have the understanding or ability to use the tools (e.g. metrics) they have or should have in any way well. Their selection does not encourage this.

I think the backdrop is very imperfect and too harsh treatment of those in the front line or one step back/up is a set up and reaction for others self protection and interest. Management is not the real world situation it's more survival in an environment, whether middle management or front line.

All we can do as individuals and groups is to continuously improve and watch our backs. We will hate it if/when we have to cover our backs whilst not being able to do our job!

Richard Lander said...

I think i meant sergeant!

Danny Martin said...

Blogger Josh K. said...
Danny there is a difference between standing over someone sholders and micromanaging them and monerterimg them checking in with them and holding them acountable for the quality of their work.

Yes, there is, but the tools used to accomplish them are the same. The difference is, more often than not, the skill, empathy, and shared experiences of the people using them.

Managing people is hard work and sometimes means making difficult choices on insufficient information. And that is BEFORE you add the complexities of law enforcement or other first responder work where lives could be on the line.
I am always cautious of those who would criticize micromanagement as they often see it as the collection of tools needed for proper management rather than the misuse of those tools.