Micromanagement Is Dead: 4 Steps to Becoming a Leader

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Partner & Chief Creative Officer
Apr 23, 2015

So you're a micromanager. It's OK to admit it; I used to be one, too. The first step to fixing any problem is acceptance, and you have come to the right place.

You might ask: why would anyone want to give up that awesome sense of power and control? Easy. That sh*t just doesn't work. Plus, we aren't living in an 1800s sweatshop. Nobody likes it or thrives in an environment where they're constantly being told what to do.

In highly creative industries, like web application development, micromanagement squashes creativity, undermines confidence, strains relationships and, perhaps most importantly, comes with a steep price tag.

Bottom line: micromanagement is inefficient and expensive.

I haven't always thought this way. Early in my career, I thought leaders were anyone with “manager” in their title. They were the ones at the top who told everyone what to do. They gave the orders and had all the power! When I moved into my first management and leadership role, I experienced a rush. I was excited by the thought of having my turn to hold the power and guide the ship.

My drunkenness with power was short lived, and I began a professional evolution that gave me a new perspective of leadership. These insights have proven to be extremely effective and fulfilling.

Here are four simple steps to make the transition from micromanager to leader.

1. Start treating everyone on your team like a leader.

This was the realization that eliminated a great deal of stress from my management experience. Empowering everyone around me to be their own leader and authority meant allowing them to make their own decisions, many times without my involvement. Believe me, this can be very difficult, but promoting a culture of shared accountability spreads the burden of responsibility and allows everyone to contribute in their own way. At Integrity, we have embraced this practice in our team dynamics.  While every team has a designer, developer, and project leader, all members have a voice and share equal responsibility in the outcome.  It will be hard at first to loosen your grip and let people do things their own way. They are going to do it differently than you would, so get used to that right now. What matters is the outcome, and your bottom line. Understanding that everyone around you is capable will take you a long way in making the transition to leader.

2. Realize that people rise to our expectations.

Under the tyrannic rule of micromanagement, we project the false belief that people are not competent. Your colleagues feel this, shaking their confidence and making them prone to error – a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. Great leaders have the amazing ability to help those around them be the best versions of themselves.  They hold a positive, empowering vision of those around them, and most of the time people rise to that vision. We all want to feel good about ourselves and great leaders give us confidence in ourselves by seeing the best in us. They help us bridge the gap between who we think we are and what we can be.

Give up the need to assume the worst in people, and realize people actually want to grow, be their best and even please you. Show your gratitude for a job well done, and you will be shocked at how much loyalty and pride you create in your team.

3. Respond to challenges as opportunities.

When things go wrong or when people make mistakes, leaders respond in a way that focuses on solutions and help us grow. Great leaders have the trust of those around them and know that people are not perfect. They see mistakes as opportunities for growth and never make people feel bad about their shortcomings. They know that any attention their team is giving to negativity is hurting their goals. They quickly determine what went wrong, and focus on creating a solution to move ahead. Every successful response to a challenge builds confidence and obstacles are moved through quickly and without unnecessary negativity.

I have yet to meet a micromanager with this attitude. Micromanagers tend to be fear-motivated, and going dark-side when challenges arise is a part of the character profile. I used to be that kind of drama queen. I'm not advising you to see all rainbows and unicorns here when things happen, but I am saying that seeing bumps as opportunities just works better. Not only does it feel way better for you and your team, but it helps you keep a calm head to see the best solution.  In my experience at Integrity, these challenges almost always reveal an opportunity to enhance a product or process for the better.

4. Trust your team.

When I first started managing, I thought my job was to make sure that everyone was doing what they should. This approach stemmed from the assumption that people couldn’t be trusted and this attitude created a lot of stress around me. Not only was this exhausting, but it didn’t bring out the best in people. People thrive best in an environment where they feel free and relaxed. The phrase “trust is earned” creates an attitude of separation and fear. Leaders know that when people feel they are trusted, their instinct is to protect that trust. Trust feels good. If people aren’t trustworthy, time will tell, but creating an environment of stress and distrust is more harmful than it is worth.

When we realize that we succeed together and fail together, we become less defensive when things go wrong and more motivated to the give the best of ourselves for the goal. Everyone has a voice, and everyone has the responsibility to be honest about what works and what doesn’t. The creative process thrives and magic happens.

Making the Transition

So now it's time to do the work. I said the steps were simple, but I didn't say it was going to be easy. The shift from micromanager to leader will involve self-awareness and growth.  You will stop controlling and start guiding. You will work smarter not harder. There is no prize for practicing struggling, which is what micromanagers do over and over. As you shift your focus to cultivating your people, you will experience less stress and more fun.

You will learn that it is not about you, but also realize that you can contribute and add value far beyond what you knew. Leadership is like gardening. You know when to water, when to weed, etc. You nurture, you cultivate,  but you don't tell the plant how to grow. You let the plant be the plant and you give it everything it needs. If you discover you have the wrong plants in the garden, you just move them somewhere else.

Long live the leader! Micromanagement is dead.

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