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Micromanagement Kills Leadership

It was my first year in high school and my first official job as the librarian’s assistant. I ended most school days sorting and returning books to shelves; the Dewey Decimal System and I were tight.

I was a good student and understood how to do well in class; however, I hadn’t learned how to be a good worker.

This became apparent when the librarian approached me about a quarter into the year saying that I needed to do better.

“Better” was nebulous, but I was too embarrassed to ask for clarification.

She gave me rules I was expected to abide by and at first I tried very hard to stick to them.

Then she began to hover. I frequently saw her looking at me from her office and made me feel as though I was constantly being watched. Many days I saw her retrace my steps to check my work. From that point, I was never able to make decisions without second guessing; never able to feel autonomous.

I often felt frozen for fear of doing something wrong and spent a lot longer doing things than I was capable.

I began to dread work. So much so that I would show up late and sometimes skip shifts because I was so unhappy.

Of course those actions made it worse. It was no surprise when one day she told me I no longer had a job.

I was blessed to get another job in the school front office shortly after that embarrassing conversation.

This job gave me the education on how to be a good and dependable worker. What was different? I wasn’t micromanaged.

I was given clear instructions and was also allowed to make adjustments within parameters. I felt comfortable asking questions because the answers did not make me feel belittled or unknowledgeable.

I was given autonomy and responsibility as soon as I showed I was ready for it. As my responsibilities grew so did my confidence, and so did my dependability.

The difference between the two jobs was the rigidity of my supervisors. The less rigid they were the more skills I was able to learn from them.

To be clear, I was still held accountable. It boiled down to the existence of trust. Trust allows accountability to be positive rather than restricting.

The more rigid leaders become (think micromanagement) the less learning and growing occurs.

Isn’t that a main reason to be a leader - to help others grow and learn?

If you believe that statement then (1) you are naturally a good leader and (2) you will do everything in your power to never be a micromanager.

Here are three tips to keep from being a micromanager:

  1. Delegate and trust - It is possible for a micromanager to delegate. The difference is they don’t trust anyone besides themselves to do a good job and at the first sign of difficulty they take the project back. Commit to never taking back a project. Take the following steps to grow leaders around you:

    • Set clear expectations that include a reasonable timeline

    • Set consistent meeting/report times

    • Keep an open door policy for questions as they arise

  2. Don’t sweat the small stuff - Micromanagers are just that: managers of the micro. The opposite of a micromanager is a macro leader. Make it a practice to look at the macro (big picture) before anything else. Ask yourself questions like this to know if something is micro or macro:

    • Will this prevent the project from being successful? (Hint: Typos are generally not a reason a project fails.)

    • What do I need leaders in my area to focus on? (Hint: Delegation is to grow leaders, not to get projects off your desk.)

    • How would this comment affect me when I had the experience level of the person in front of me? (Hint: Compassion gets far better results than criticism.)

  3. Work on perfectionism - Most often, micromanagement stems from perfectionism. It’s the mentality of, ‘If every facet can’t be perfect then the whole project is unworthy.’ Of course that is perfection by your own standard. The sad thing about perfectionism is that it requires a lot of time and is rarely ever satisfied. It’s a bad recipe for growth and success. Make a commitment to take the jackhammer of truth to the barriers cemented in place by perfectionist tendencies.


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