In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, "The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it."
Teddy’s statement is a good starting point for developing a sound management style. But putting his wisdom into action requires two further efforts:
1.Defining what you want done.
2.Establishing the correct level of “meddling”.
Let’s tackle the latter first. Meddling in a subordinate’s job is often called micromanagement. That bane of sound organizational performance is evidenced by a manager continually:
•Refusing to delegate tasks.
•Monitoring and judging every step of an assistant’s decision making.
•Requesting unnecessary and useless reports.
•Immersing himself too deeply in projects assigned to others.
•Correcting minor, unnecessary details.
•Discouraging his subordinates from making decisions on their own.
In the end, a micromanager becomes a bottleneck and limits what his team can achieve. The consequences are deadly. Confidence is destroyed, performance suffers, and frustration drives his team members to quit. In such cases, the guilty manager’s superior must take immediate action through counseling and possibly dismissal. In the hyper-competitive business world, you cannot tolerate under-performing people in critical jobs.
In doing so, you must recognize an important point: A micromanager’s primary failure comes from taking positive attributes like attention to detail and a hands-on approach to the extreme. Such traits are repeatedly found in great managers. The challenge is finding the line that separates healthy involvement from damaging interference.
In short, great managers attend to those elements of the business that really matter and ignore the unimportant. Knowing that, we must return to the first part of Roosevelt’s quote – defining what needs to be done. You can’t succeed unless you align your organization to make the right decisions about the right issues at the right time. After all, successful performance is defined by doing the right things well.
To achieve great results you as manager at any level must concentrate on three strategic-level action steps:
1.Developing a clear sense of your organization’s purpose ie, what it seeks to achieve.
2.Defining the theory of the business i.e., how the organization will achieve its purpose.
3.Communicating that information clearly and continually.
Everyone from top to bottom in a company must know what the late management thinker Marvin Bower called “the way things are done around here.” That knowledge enables correct decisions about the important issues in a timely fashion.
By definition therefore, for communicating critical knowledge to an organization, the over-involvement trait of a micromanager is a useful tool. In fact, as a manager you have the responsibility to ensure all of your subordinates and their subordinates understand the factors for success in your company. Why not risk over-involvement attending to that task? That level of meddling is healthy.
Concentrating on the way things must be done also requires the intense attention to detail often found in a micromanager. But that focus must be on the right details. That’s where training comes in. Good managers spend energy equipping their subordinates to do their jobs so they can make the right decisions and recommendations, without interference from above.
As in all cases, the goal of sound training is to ensure that a task may be delegated without directing how that job is to be completed. Delegating cannot be the end of a manager’s job. Rather delegation must follow training and be followed by assessment of results with the subordinate. Regular feedback of actual versus target performance enables your workers to excel and develop. Implementing that recipe of training, delegation, and feedback will eliminate the need for micromanagement and lead to a team of fully empowered workers.
Paradoxically, the beneficial traits of micromanagers often qualify them to be excellent teachers. Most, after all, are experts in their areas of responsibility. As such they can be deeply analytical and have great credibility. If properly directed, micromanagers can help others perform their jobs better.
More advice for balancing micromanagement and delegation:
1.Be selective – You must choose with care those areas where your deep involvement is warranted. One example is a highly critical project for which failure is not an option. While your team may be fully competent, jumping in with both feet may be justifiable.
2.Backstop your regular responsibilities – While on a deep dive into special projects, don’t neglect your on-going job.
3.Justify your involvement – Advise your subordinates of your intentions.
4.Listen – As always, don’t forget that your subordinates have insights valuable to achieving the best outcome.
Bottom Line: Achieving optimal performance from a team requires balancing the best traits of micromanagement and delegation. It’s not just one or the other.
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