Tuesday, July 5, 2011
It's been brought to my attention more than once over the past year that I am a micro manager. I am an incredibly introspective person, constantly self examining and analyzing my every action. Micromanagement is considered a negative trait so being my introspective self I am setting out to better understand this trait and how to turn it around.
Wikipedia defines micromanagement as "management especially with excessive control and attention to detail."
Controlling and attention to detail - yep, that's me.
Early in my career that "controlling" trait was celebrated by my managers as "drive" and a "take the bull by the horns" attitude. My managers liked it because they knew I'd get things done. And with my attention to detail it would be done thoroughly and polished. No matter how many hours I needed to put in, I got the job done. In the sea of entry-level green consultants I was able to differentiate and rise to the top quickly because I took control, thought through the minutiae, and the end result was polished.
So where did this all go wrong? How did my best trait become one of my worst?
In my mind it's easy to be confused with why this once positive trait is now being perceived as "a developmental opportunity" - I know how something needs to be done, I love getting into the details, and I don't want anything with my name associated to it to be less than perfect. Where's the flaw in that?
Well here's what I've come up with:
Expectations have changed - I'm not a green consultant anymore. I am a seasoned professional and executive within my company. Just being eager with great attention to detail isn't going to cut it anymore. Enthusiasm and quality are expected. As a company leader, it's about scaling that quality.
Scalability - to grow in your career means to move beyond the individual contributor status. An individual only has a limited amount of throughput. To grow as a leader means to scale yourself so that no single result is dependent on you. You need to inspire and teach teams of individual contributors to put the same level of thought and quality into a task as you would. Otherwise you'll burn out quickly trying to do everything.
Grow someone else to grow yourself - unless you are content to be a one-man show or pigeon-holed (which I am not), it's your duty to help someone else follow your lead. Constantly thinking of ways you can put yourself out of your current job so that you can keep moving is key. It can be unsettling. It's easy to be concerned about - what will I do if someone else is doing my job? That is rarely an issue for someone that likes to keep moving and is open to the next challenge. There's always something new to sink your teeth into and a new problem to solve. Teaching someone else helps a micro manager learn to let go of some of the control and figure out ways to put just enough structure in place that the job will get done well while allowing the individual to learn the ropes in their own way.
People crave structure - without some framework in place, the work that gets done becomes reactive and tactical without a strategic vision behind it. No one sets out to operate in a purely reactive manner but it happens without some set of guidelines for organizing and prioritizing what needs to get accomplished.
People find you annoying - the constant badgering will drive someone insane. The checking if it's done and pounding people with emails on how to do something usually stems from the fact that there wasn't well thought out plan put in place in the first place and there isn't enough transparency in place. A micro manager's gut is to take control by doing the work or badgering people in a very reactive way about what needs to be done. Don't punish your team for your own lack of planning leadership.
So here's my action plan:
1. Communicate desired outcomes, don't dictate how it gets done. Empower and trust others.
2. Put enough structure in place to help people prioritize what needs to be done in the short-term. Plan first, get alignment from the team on what needs to be done and what the definition of done is, then let them execute.
3. Focus my attention to detail on the big picture, analyzing results, and turning results into actions that are followed through
4. Manage through change - our priorities can change on a daily basis and anything worth doing takes time and persistence. A true leader with help the team course correct to adapt to the changing needs of the business, while being the biggest supporter in seeing the work through completion. A bunch of half done projects aren't nearly as good as one "done" project.
5. Listen more, talk less - I may think I know it all but listening to other people's ideas and perspective is a great way to drive innovation and creativity. Putting someone else's idea into action is a great way to build confidence in individual team members. A micro manager thinks only their way will work. And 9 times out of 10 you are probably wrong.
Fellow control freaks, I'd love to hear from you. What's your perspective and what are you doing to beat the urge to "just do it all yourself"?