A reader asks:
“I’m a new manager and know that I shouldn’t micromanage, but I’m not sure how to perform my role without being totally uninvolved. How do I make sure that work gets done well without actually micromanaging?”
First, it’s important to clarify that being an involved manager or checking in with your team is not the same thing as being a micromanager. A micromanager delegates work without really delegating decisions or showing trust. They dictate exactly how to do something and watch over every little step in the process. While a side-by-side approach might make sense during a training period or while developing a brand new skill, a micromanager consistently intervenes and imposes preferences in a way that undermines others’ growth and leadership. It quickly becomes demoralizing for staff who don’t feel trusted, won’t have room to develop new skills, and never get to have a sense of ownership over the work or goals.
Second, if you read that last paragraph and felt a pang of shame, don’t worry. The urge to micromanage often stems from a lack of trust, so start by figuring out where the low trust is coming from. Get to the root by asking: “Do I have confidence in [this staff person’s / team’s] knowledge, skill, and ability to do the work?”
- If so, focus on building up your delegation tool belt, getting clear about the best division of labor among your team, and setting staff up for success on projects so you can stay in the mix without overdoing it.
- If not, ask:
- “Have I seen a pattern of mistakes, unfinished work, or misunderstandings with this staff member?”
- “How will I clarify expectations, support skill-building, and give feedback?”
- “Am I imposing preferences and traditions that aren’t really required for getting great results?”
- “What biases might be shaping my trust in this person or team? Who can I ask for more perspective?”
Effective managers are clear on the desired outcomes, offer appropriate support (without taking the project back), and check on progress so that staff members can make needed adjustments before it’s too late. They also debrief with staff to foster learning and accountability.
Of course, there are times when an effective manager should manage more closely, such as when a staff member is new to their role, struggling to move work forward, isn’t approaching their job in line with role expectations, or the stakes are very high. These are all opportunities to get curious and roll up your sleeves—so you can provide better support, not do more of the work. If you’re checking in regularly, dedicate these meetings to figuring out what’s happening. Try our CSAW approach to these conversations, be forthright about concerns, and develop a plan to get things back on track.
If you find your close involvement is needed for a long stretch, it might be a sign that the staff member needs more skill development or the beginning of a more serious performance issue you’ll need to address with intention and discernment. Read Four Steps for Addressing Performance Problems.
As a manager, your job is to make sure you are delivering extraordinary, sustained results with team members empowered to thrive in and through the work. Part of getting great results is hiring great people, helping them learn, and giving them room to do their jobs well.
With this approach in mind, let’s look at specific ways to you can shift from micromanagement to effective management as you set staff up for success:
|Micromanagement looks like…||Effective management looks like…|
|Dictating how to do a task or approach a problem, even when it won’t affect the quality of the results.||Clearly communicating goals and expectations at the outset. Getting everyone aligned on what success looks like, inviting staff perspectives, and sharing insight when it aids the results.|
|Redoing work yourself or undoing their decisions.||Guiding more, and doing less. Giving feedback when something could be improved and asking staff to try another round.|
|Constantly checking up on work that a staff member has already demonstrated they can do well.||Forecasting how work will unfold and setting milestones and benchmarks. Having regular check-ins to touch base and normalizing feedback—in both directions.|
|Asking to see all emails before they go out or joining every project meeting just to observe or shadow.||Asking to see “slices” of work (a sample of the whole, like a page from the new website design, or part of a class/training) to inform praise, curiosity, and feedback.|
|Never allowing a staff member to take full ownership of a project or area, only assigning it out task-by-task.||Shifting a project or responsibility to a staff member and trusting them to drive the work forward.|
|Managing experienced, skilled staff members in the same way you manage more junior, less experienced ones.||Adjusting your approach to fit the context.|
|Managing low-importance projects as closely as you would manage high-importance ones.||Adjusting your approach to fit the organization’s priorities, your role, and the stakes.|