Micromanagement Traits: How to Identify and Avoid Them | SOS Podcast

Micromanagement Traits: How to Identify and Avoid Them | SOS Podcast

Few things frustrate workers more than dealing with micromanagers. In this episode, AEU LEAD Director Joe White breaks down the traits associated with micromanagement and offers suggestions to help supervisors identify and avoid them in their daily interactions with employees.




The SOS podcast is a production of AEU LEAD, an organization redefining how mid and frontline managers are developed.

Joe White:
Hello, and thank you for joining us. I'm Joe White, and this is the Supervisor Skills: Secrets of Success podcast. Today's episode involves a topic I've not previously covered through this podcast series. It's certainly one of great significance, and one most have had experience with at some point in their career. Our discussion today involves micromanagement. Per our namesake, what I'll be sharing of the next few minutes is prepared exclusively for the benefit of frontline supervision. As for positioning, my remarks are intended to help create self-reflection and, if necessary, a needed response. The primary purpose of this episode is to help listeners avoid practices or tactics categorically viewed as overly controlling in nature. For those on board, let's jump right into it.

On a recent flight, I had a conversation with a young lady who sat beside me. Over the course of the hour-and-a-half flight, she expressed a lot of frustration with her job and, more specifically, in dealing with her direct supervisor. Working in sales, she shared several examples of instances whereby her manager seemingly wanted to control through her every step of the business development process. Based on her experience, what she found most problematic didn't involve suggestions or dialogue around the what; it involved constant oversight and dictation regarding the how. The scenario described, and the resulting impact of it exemplifies micromanagement.

Micromanagement is a term many struggle to define in words but readily recognize in practice. In my experience, I believe micromanagement involves an unnecessary level of management oversight for the purposes of controlling employee decisions associated with and behaviors involving the performance of their job. From the perspective of a supervisor, it typically results from a lack of trust or confidence in an employee's ability. From the point of view of the employee, it's undermining and diminishes self-worth and perceived value as a contributor.

According to a recent survey conducted by monster.com, three-fourths of employees believe micromanagement is a cultural red flag, half have said they would leave a job where it exists, and one in three have actually left jobs because of it. Supervisors demonstrating unnecessary levels of management oversight hurt their credibility, reduce respect, and ultimately diminish their influence with direct reports. Employees reporting to controlling or overburdening bosses are less engaged, out more often, and far more likely to leave for other jobs.

How do you recognize or determine if you're a micromanager? Here are some questions for consideration that may help answer that question. 

  • Do you retain exclusive control over decisions made? 
  • Do employees have to get your approval to complete tasks? 
  • Do you require constant updates? Do employees have to copy you on all emails? 
  • Do you have difficulty delegating tasks? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might consider taking a step back and loosening the reins a bit. For those open to doing so, here are several recommendations for consideration.


1. See the big picture. 

According to a recent Gartner HR study, managers now have 51% more responsibilities than they can effectively manage. Micromanagement is exhaustive, time-draining, and burdensome. Getting employees more involved, delegating where you can, and growing skills within teams, are keys to long-term success. These are also examples of ways to demonstrate trust, and relinquish control to those ready, willing, and able to take on more responsibilities.


2. Prepare employees. 

The skills gap is broadly recognized as the difference between skills required for a job and those held by employees. At this point in time, the skills gap has never been wider, or the effects of it more apparent. The default consequence of this trend is felt primarily on the front line and is recognized most notably by supervisors. Retaining control of decision-making, given the scenario, is an option often taken for a variety of well-intended reasons. The short-term benefits of this choice, however, come at a great cost over time. Coach employees, grow from mistakes, and lean on experienced team members where you can to mentor others when they can.


3. Relinquish control. 

At its core, micromanagement is about control. It's about minimizing internalized vulnerability and trying to dictate the means to an end. To succeed, your employees must succeed. That requires transitioning from dependency upon you to a culture of independency, whereby performance outcomes are understood and accepted by those doing the work. Start slow, and allow this transformation to take a course and pace of its own.


4. Provide opportunities. 

72% of the incoming generation prefers participated management or leadership practices. Functionally, it means having a voice or say in a team-centered setting. That translates to providing opportunities for input and involvement, everything, in essence, that micromanagement is not. Get to know your employees, build trust and credibility through actions and examples, and demonstrate value for their thoughts, ideas, and suggestions.


5. Promote interdependency. 

Relinquishing control involves delegation of tasks and conveying ownership of responsibility, which, by definition, is independence. Ultimately, supervisors should do everything possible to promote and advocate for team-based cultures whereby employees look out for one another. Interdependency is a traitor characteristic shared by the world's best-performing teams. In practice, it results in conveying responsibility for operational outcomes to the teams performing the work. Where it exists, supervisors paint a picture of what success entails and offer support to those responsible for delivering it.

Micromanagement involves an unnecessary level of management oversight for the purpose of controlling employee decisions associated with and behaviors involving the performance of their job. It typically results from perceived vulnerability and involves practices intended to minimize the likelihood of failure. While often well-intended, micromanagement is a primary source of frustration among employees, resulting in disengagement and turnover. Taking steps to transition responsibility for success to employees and ultimately to teams is a key to success. It also aligns with the expectations and preferences of those now entering the workforce, resulting in a win-win scenario for all involved.

Thank you for joining us. It's my sincere hope you found benefit in our discussion today. We'll be back in July, and look forward to you joining us then. If you know of someone that could benefit from our topics of discussion, please forward a link with an endorsement for their consideration. Should you have any questions or need additional information regarding today's topic, just let us know. Our contact information is provided in the show notes accompanying this episode. For those that may not have reviewed or rated your experience with our show, we would greatly appreciate you doing so. That's it for now; stay safe, and thanks for listening.

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About the Author

As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe White focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.

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