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Episode 4: When They Feel Micromanaged

delegation podcast Jan 18, 2022


"I heard from a team member’s direct report that they feel micromanaged. I probably need to talk to the team member about it, but isn’t it micromanaging if I step in?"

This is a good question. There’s so many layers to what you are talking about here! One layer is that it’s something “you heard” about your team member. You don’t know how much is true, how much might be personality or relationship dynamic. 

Your question brings up a few more questions for me …

  • Was it a one time thing or a pattern over time that made this person feel micromanaged?
  • How is the behavior you’ve noticed consistent or inconsistent with what you are hearing?
  • What does micromanagement mean to them – and what does it mean to you? 

You’re cautious to jump right in and control the situation because you want to lead well. You’re building a team and if you jump in too often it defeats the purpose of having the team you want and need. And you certainly wouldn’t want to talk to your team member about micromanaging others by stepping across the line and actually micromanaging them. 

What is Micromanaging?

My first curiosity is really around what is micromanaging anyway? What does it mean to them? What does it mean to you?

It’s both in terms of defining it with words, but also describing the behavior that looks like micromanaging.

It might be the way someone is talking to them. It’s interpersonal. Feeling talked down to. Having their abilities questioned. It can actually be some personality clashes and different communication styles coming into play. These can give the impression of micromanaging when it’s a matter of learning how to communicate differently.

It could mean they don’t feel empowered to make decisions even on simple things. They hit roadblocks or have to circle back too often.  The work is actually being hindered because they don’t have the “room” to do their job.

It might mean how the work is getting done. Completed work gets redone or projects are taken over before they're finished. Being told how to do things rather than having the freedom to find their own way.

With so much ambiguity about what micromanaging really means, you are right to be cautious to step in and micromanage. 

And in this situation it might be even a little more ambiguous because its a soft leadership skill – the interaction between these two people. It would be easier if it was an objective task that you really do need to manage more so that the standard or goal that’s explicitly stated will be met.

This on the other hand is the softer skills on how a person might be evolving their own leadership style. Your leader might not yet be fully aware of their style and the leader they are becoming and you have an opportunity to help them uncover that more fully… to tap into their strengths and manage potential blind spots.

Craft the Conversation

I also think part of your caution might be because you are responding to something you’ve heard rather than something you experienced yourself.

You’ve probably already thought about sending them back to talk to your team member about their experience. More than just sending them back, what about helping them shape the conversation. 

Ask them some questions that help them bottom line what is important to them.

People often start with venting and because there is some emotion behind. I get that emotions like that aren’t fun and we might be hesitant to dig deeper into that, but well-timed questions can help them get the clarity they need and what they want to ask for in the conversation. 

You could even have them write out what they want to ask for in a clear, succinct statement like:

  • “Next time this comes up, I would like to be empowered to make that decision. What would it take to do that?”
  • “When you talk to me about something I’ve done that you don’t like, could you please assume the benefit of the doubt and ask me some questions that allow me the opportunity to explain my thinking.”
  • “Rather than random check-ins, could we get agreement on what you want to be informed on and then set up regular check in times instead? 

Then, help them lay out how they want to have the conversation. What to say first and confirming what their goal is. 

You’re sending them back to the leader they think is micromanaging but with clarity and with a plan. They will feel more confident to handle it themselves – and that’s worth a million bucks. 

Offer Direct Feedback

It’s not micromanaging at all, though, if you have seen something personally. That makes it a great opportunity to address it directly.  Be specific with some examples of how you see micromanaging.

Yes. They might get defensive or take it personal. Let them know you’re in their corner and stay focused on your end-goal >> which is to help them lead well. 

So, ask questions that might create some self-awareness for them >> with things like,

  • What are ways that this might be true? might not be true? 
  • What might people be seeing that would lead them to that conclusion? 
  • What are some of the ways you want to shift perceptions going forward? 

Let them come up with what they want to do differently to become the leader they want to be.

Manage It Indirectly 

All of these things we’ve been talking about are some more direct approaches. I bring them up first because they are harder for most of us to do. It’s okay though, if it’s not a long-term pattern and relationships are all still in tack >> you might just deal with it as part of your general leadership development conversations. 

I’m assuming that you have some regular 1:1 meetings and part of those meetings could be checking in on how things are going and asking about what support they need to continue growing as a leader. 

There’s just not a one-size-fits all solution to most of these kinds of situations. And, like I said in the beginning, striking the right balance on the whole micromanaging thing can be tricky.

If you’ve still got unanswered questions, that's good! Because your curiosity has kicked in and you’re seeing the layers. Don’t stop asking questions. That’s what helps you find answers that work for you . . . the ones that make sense and seem doable. When we get there, that means we’ve asked enough questions to see the path we want to take.

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