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The Pitfalls of Micromanaging

3 surefire steps to control your urge to control


by Renita T. Kalhorn

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There’s a classic Dilbert cartoon that illustrates the nature of micromanaging: the pointy haired boss is standing behind Dilbert at his computer saying, “Move the mouse…up…up…..over….more. Now click it! Click it!”

That’s not you, of course.

Or is it? If you think you should be personally involved in every decision in your business, if you insist on taking the lead in major tasks, if you hover over your employees, then you may very well be micromanaging.

Why Micromanaging Doesn’t Work

It’s understandable, when you’ve put so much into building your business, to want things done a particular way. Depriving your employees of a degree of freedom and autonomy, however, diminishes their sense of ownership. And if they feel you don’t trust them to do the job -- that they can never measure up, no matter how hard they try – they’ll start to think “why bother” and lose motivation. Not to mention, when you have to be involved in every decision, you become a bottleneck. All of which inhibits your company’s growth.

So how do you do things differently?

Curb the Urge To Control Everything

The first step is simply to acknowledge and become conscious of what you’re doing. Do you find yourself saying, “I want to make sure it gets done right,” or “I'm a perfectionist”? What you see as maintaining high standards, your staff likely sees as micromanaging.

See also: Juggling Lessons for Entrepreneurs

Start to notice when you feel the urge to control. What sets you off? Is it an imminent deadline that you’re afraid of missing? Is it discovering somebody’s mistake and becoming anxious to avoid more?

Or maybe you like to feel needed, to play the hero. That was the case with one of my clients, the president of a financial planning firm. While I was helping his assistant set up the PowerPoint presentation I was giving to the team, her boss came out of his office, took the mouse out of her hand and started fumbling around on her computer, taking much longer to bring up my presentation than it would have otherwise.

Simply raising your awareness of your triggers will help you choose different behaviors.

Come Clean With Your Staff

Next, enlist the support of your staff by acknowledging that you want to do things differently. As software entrepreneur Dan Street says: “I’ve told all the people on my team I’m struggling with [micromanaging] and giving them the go-ahead to tell me when I’m full of it.”

See also: 5 Surprising Skills Leaders Need Today

Yes, it’s scary to open up to your employees, but showing vulnerability can create great loyalty and enhance your credibility. Discuss typical scenarios when you tend to be overly controlling and give them permission to let you know. You can even agree on a code word -- “Dilbert alert” for example -- that sends the message in a way that’s diplomatic and non-confrontational.

Stay in Your Genius Zone

Generally speaking, your role as head of the company revolves around directing the long-term vision, making sure your team has the resources to carry it out, and focusing on your own zone of genius. It’s not fixing the copier, deciding what kind of highlighter pens to buy or getting caught up in “the dogs” – the shorthand one of my clients, CEO of a property development firm, uses to refer to getting involved in conversations about what size and kind of dogs should be allowed on the properties they owned. Periodically during the day, check in and ask: am I working in my zone of genius?

At first, holding back from jumping in and sharing your expertise will feel uncomfortable. But as Gen. George S. Patton said: “If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you'll be amazed at the results.”

Renita Kalhorn is the founder of Step Up Your Game Now. She helps entrepreneurs and business owners achieve exceptional productivity and performance under pressure.