I‘m going off-PPC-topic today, which wasn’t really planned, but I was thinking about this as I was reading a book the other day about leadership and management. A friend called me to vent about work, and the two things together put me into reflection mode.
Having been in the workforce post-college for over 10 years now (good grief, it hurts to type that) it’s interesting to reflect on the experience so far. In your 20s, getting a job is an exciting and fascinating thing. Each successive job is usually either better or worse than your previous one, and after awhile you start to notice in a more acute sense what it’s like to have a manager.
I managed a handful of people for the first time in my late 20s. There was no class given on it, no book with all the answers. I felt like I was feeling my way around in the dark to not crash into stuff. A few years ago, I wound up managing the largest groups I have to date.
I thought these two experiences would teach me more about myself as a manager, but I found it did something else: it highlighted where I’d probably screwed up before, and really made me aware of habits old managers had that I knew I didn’t want. In my current role, I manage no one, which is quite a shift after being responsible for two departments that totaled 20+ people a year ago. It’s given some time to reflect, and in hearing complaints from friends about their situation, I’m finding there are four common threads…there are probably more, but these are the most prominent, and they’re things I truly hope I never did when I was leading people. (Though I’m sure I did at some point.)
Most micromanaging people don’t realize they are that way, but this habit produces two outcomes:
1. the employees being micromanaged don’t feel empowered and
2. the manager with this issue winds up constantly frustrated.
It’s a vicious cycle: the manager won’t let go and trust their people to come back with great work, so the team members focus on just trying to keep the boss happy, which doesn’t lead to great work.
Symptoms of micromanagement:
Do you feel a compulsive need to “touch” every. single. thing. that your team passes by you? Examine the changes you make: are they simply personal taste things that do not affect the ultimate product, or are you fixing genuine errors that impact that quality of your final output. Important distinction.
2. Focusing on details that have nothing to do with overall performance.
I think this is a control thing, and I haven’t experienced this since my early 20s, but I have friends that do. They’re the bosses who pass by offices at 8:32am to see if everyone is there, yet they come by at 5:06pm to see if they’re still there. They email at night to see if the person will respond.
I can only speak from my experience, but the highest-performing, most dedicated folks I’ve worked with were the ones that were trusted to behave as adults. Once in a blue moon you’d get someone that would abuse it, but they’d have done that no matter what. The majority do not, and you wind up with teammates that are extremely loyal to the company, and behave like adults because you treat them like one.
The other issue with this behavior is that it demotivates the high-output people. If you’re the manager and you care about things like the exact minute someone comes in, you’re probably not focusing equally as much on results. So, why would people try hard if all it takes it showing up at a certain time?
I couldn’t have cared less if people worked 9 until 6 or 7 until 4. If their output was great, our customers were thrilled. And an interesting side effect of not focusing so much on that is regardless of whether their time window was one or the other – they’re the ones who would respond at night if something urgent came up with a client. Because they knew output and service was valued that was the focus – punching a clock was never a “thing” so it was never the focus or end-goal.
Symptoms of being check-the-box-based versus performance based:
What are the first three things you’d list as the positive traits for your best employees? If they are box-checking things and have nothing to do with results or teamwork, examine what you truly want your team to accomplish.
3. Reminding them that you’re “in charge.”
Technically, yes, you’re the manager and you’re the boss. However, if you have to remind people of that constantly, you are either hiring the wrong people or you have a massive problem with insecurity.
Managing people isn’t about being the end-all, be-all. Truly, the best bosses are the ones that act as a mediator. They consider the needs of their team, examine the greater company goals, and find a way to work in the middle to make both sides excel. That’s not to say you don’t have to drop the hammer sometimes and make a call when there’s a disagreement, but you can’t approach every situation like that from the get-go. In managing, I probably spent more than half the time negotiating and educating so people could get on the same page and drive things forward. It was rewarding, and the results were far better when people had input and ownership in the plans.
Symptoms of being a bully-boss:
Do you order people around and say you have to because you’re the boss? Do they not accomplish anything unless you demand it, or is that just your perception? Here’s a hint: if that’s the reason they do something, they will not produce the best results. If your team truly doesn’t perform unless you play the boss card, maybe you have the wrong people…or maybe you think that’s the only way to motivate people. (It’s not.)
4. Being unclear in your expectations and delegating terribly.
There are few things more frustrating than a boss who thinks they’re empowering their people by saying, “Here, go run with this” and then shredding what they come back with. “Why didn’t you…” or “I thought you were going to…” responses just rain on that person’s parade.
If you have certain expectations about what you expect that team member to come back with, make them clear. Don’t micromanage, but if there are must-haves for the final product, state them. Make them clear. List them, if you have to. Be clear about the parts that you want them to be empowered to handle. Maybe something needs to be 1,000 words, but you’re open to formatting, layout, or the images they choose. Say so. Don’t say “Write this report, I’m excited to see what you can do,” and then when they come back with it start pointing out all the things they didn’t do that you were expecting.
A side effect of this is that your team will feel uncomfortable taking on anything, because the final product is a moving target. They will condition themselves to become micromanaged by you (and you saw in #1 how well that works) because they don’t want to be torn down when they bring you a project you’re just going to nitpick away.
Symptoms that you’re a Muddy Manager:
Do you constantly find yourself frustrated because everyone seems perpetually confused? “This is totally clear, why doesn’t ANYONE else get this?” Because it’s not them, it’s you. If you’re the common denominator in always feeling like no one “gets it” maybe it’s because you don’t.
I truly don’t believe most managers who do these things do it intentionally. Humans bring along a lot of emotional baggage, and just because they become a boss, those things don’t magically disappear. If anything, the habits can amplify because they feel ill-prepared to manage or insecure in the role. Part of being a successful manager is realizing it’s NOT ABOUT YOU. It’s about your team, your customers…the people you SERVE as a manager.
It’s truly the ultimate irony of being a boss: you’re not in charge. You’re actually in a position of serving more than you ever have in previous roles. The more you can remember that, the better guide and mentor you’ll be to your team. And, in turn, you’ll get far better results than you ever would otherwise.