Stop killing team productivity by being a micromanager

In my experience, I’ve found that the smaller the team, the greater the danger that the team leader becomes a micromanager — the business equivalent of a helicopter parent. Overly controlling your employees kills their creativity, reduces their engagement and hurts their productivity. Here are a few tips to empower your employees without completely losing your grip on the reins.

Hire well

A 2016 study from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business found that when comparing high-stress jobs, those that “also gave employees less control were associated with a 15.4 percent increased chance of death.”

Hiring someone you trust isn’t only a matter of your own well-being but theirs as well! Working with someone you find competent and trustworthy can eliminate many of the temptations to micromanage.

Be explicit about expectations

Being clear with your priorities can provide context to your employees. You may know that if X project doesn’t get done (and done well) by the end of the month, your production will lag, but your employee doesn’t necessarily know that when you tell them, “Get this done by the end of the month.”

It’s better to spell it out by saying something like, “I need this done by the end of the month so we stay on track with this quarter’s production goals. If you hit a snag, let me know sooner rather than later.”

Build trust

The easiest way to build trust in your employees is to tell them you trust them. Saying things like, “I’m confident that you can handle this,” is a great way to empower your team members. But don’t say it for the sake of being a “good leader.” Telling an employee you trust them to handle a project or task when you don’t is an excellent way to set them, and yourself, up for failure.

Another tactic is to include employees in goal setting. Much like including your employees in your priorities, opening up the conversation about the company’s goals can be an excellent way to foster a sense of ownership.

Asking “How can you best help us achieve this goal?” is an excellent way to put an employee in a problem-solving state of mind.

Focus on results, not process

If you are just transitioning from a more controlling managerial style (micromanaging), your team may have some failures as you take off the training wheels. That’s part of the transition.

As you review each project with your employees, focus on the results, not on how you would have done it differently. Ask questions like “How can you refine your process for next time?”

And be sure to celebrate each victory as employees grow in confidence and achievement of the goals you’ve set together.

Walk the walk

You can talk about building trust until your blue in the face. If you backslide into micromanagement — if your actions as a team leader or business owner don’t match up to your words — your team will know it.

The temptation to micromanage is strong, but the benefits of discontinuing it far outweigh any short-term fix you may get. By being explicit about expectations, building trust, homing in on results and walking the walk, you are investing in the long-term development of your employees and in your own growth as a leader.

For more about leadership:

  • Read “Coaching vs. micromanaging to bring out the best in staff”  — This article is from the MDRT Hiring Guide, where you’ll find a wealth of information about hiring, compensating and managing employees and teams.
  • Watch “Let go and lead”  — Find out how to empower and motivate employees by becoming a leader, not a micromanager.
  • Read “Build an engaged firm”  — Two Top of the Table qualifiers share the effective engagement tools that helped their agency gain recognition as one of the best places to work. Audio is also available for this Annual Meeting session.
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