8 Tips to Stop Micromanaging & Start Leading

Blog Series, Good Work, Leadership, Mission-Driven Work

Learning to lead teams effectively is the key to success for any manager. Remembering to lead and not micromanage your team takes practice and reflection every single day. In preparation for a Getting Smart team retreat I’ve been thinking about how our team continues to grow leaders and model the behaviors we hope to see in organizations, schools and districts we advocate for.

To manage is described as being in charge of (a company, establishment, or undertaking); administer; run. To micromanage is described as control every part, however small, of (an enterprise or activity). As the Harvard Business Journal said, “The difference between managing and micromanaging is the focus on the ‘micro.’ At the core of moving away from micromanaging is letting go of the minutia.” For me the difference also comes down to the level of trust and control.

Whether you lead school staff, teachers, consultants, writers, designers or retail associates there are several key traits that all leaders can use to avoid micromanaging talented team members. Here are a few tips to ensure successful management not micromanagement.

1. Pick the right people. I hire and surround myself with people that I trust. Not only do I trust they will accomplish deliverables, but I know they are capable of accomplishing the work we do. My team has the ability to set their schedules, navigate through various priorities, but know they can ask questions and request feedback at anytime. Knowing which members of your team are well suited for certain tasks and projects is also essential to successful completion and execution of your assignments.

2. Don’t set up for failure. I always tell my team I would never put you in a position where I think you could fail. If you’ve been assigned something on our team it is because we know you are capable of accomplishing that task. Whether it’s covering a call, writing a paper, researching a strategy project, teaching a class, or giving a speech your team members should feel empowered by you to succeed. Be honest with them about where they need to research, grow or learn to accomplish a deliverable. NEVER assign a deliverable to someone you know is not able to meet demands just to prove a point. Equip and inspire your team members to succeed and grow with every project.

3. Be clear on expectations. As you think about delegating tasks or a project, make sure you are clear on what the objectives are. What will successful completion look like? Is there an example of this being done before? Provide examples, tools, and resources where you can.

4. Communicate timeline. Not only is it important to communicate about objectives, but be very clear on the timeline and deadline for work assigned. If there are key dates throughout a project when you will want to check work, see progress, make that known at the start. If there is a clear end date, or window of time that the deliverable needs to be accomplished within make sure that is crystal clear.

5. Don’t keep the control. Be clear on outcomes and flexible on the path. Understand that people will take different routes to the same desired outcome as you might. Allow a team member to make decisions about a project and how objectives will be met. Trying to dictate exactly how a deliverable will be done will quickly fall into the micromanagement category. I don’t need to control how and when every deliverable gets done if we communicate effectively when work is assigned. Your team needs to know where to end, not how to get there.

6. Know your value. Where do you really add value to a situation? One of the keys to management is knowing your team’s strengths, including your own. Are there pieces of a project that you could contribute effectively to that perhaps other team members would benefit from? Dig in there and let the other pieces be handled by your more than capable team members. This also demonstrates to your team that you are willing to roll up your sleeves and dive in to complete a project.

7. Provide feedback. Everyone needs and wants feedback. Its incredibly important to highlight not just where you see room for improvement but what was successful on a project. Team members need to know what to continue doing and where they met expectations. I often find myself forgetting to mention when I really liked work product or a way that a team member handled a client interaction. Stopping to provide immediate feedback can make a big difference in how a team member accomplishes tasks and feels about their contributions. If there was room for improvement, help your team member understand how they can learn those skills, what resources to use or if there is another member of the team that could provide guidance.

8. Reflect. Take time weekly to think about your interactions with team members. Ask yourself where you were actually needed in discussion that week? Where could you have backed off? Were you too much in the weeds of a project and not allowing team members to handle it? Use that reflection to prepare yourself for managing your team the following week. As you discuss and assign deliverables remember your own improvement list.

If after all these tips, it still feels like micromanaging is needed with a team member to complete desired objectives it’s time to have a conversation about that person’s role on your team. Do they need professional development to learn skills needed for your work? Are they passionate about the work you are doing? Asking questions and having open discussions about performance will ensure that the team member is committed to your work and should remain part of your team.

Learning to manage well, and never micromanage will improve your team members’ job satisfaction, performance and attitude. But keep in mind that managing effectively is also rewarding for the manager. Less time spend in the weeds means more time for big picture thinking, planning and interactions that are valuable for your own enjoyment of your position, team and company. Continued growth is about remembering to work smarter, not harder all the time.

For more blogs by Caroline, check out: