by Steve Adubato, PhD
In last Sunday's "Star Ledger" Jeff Whelan wrote a piece called "McGreevey: Back to Blundering" in which the governor's leadership style was explored in great detail. In the article, the article referred to the fact that members of the media, lawmakers and McGreevey's own Cabinet were losing their patience "with the governor's micromanaging."
It's funny, micromanaging is in the eye of the beholder. When exactly does the positive leadership trait of attending to the details become problematic micromanaging? At what point does the desire not to micromanage cause leaders to become so far removed that they are soon clueless as to what exactly is going on in their organization?
Let's try to make sense of the whole micromanaging issue. First, micromanaging has its place. People need to know that you care about getting things done on time and in the right way. They need to know that if things go wrong, you are going to get involved and find out what happened and how to get it right. Further, employees in any organization must believe that the person in charge knows something about each team member's responsibilities and has a reasonable method of measuring his or her respective performance.
Another positive aspect of micromanaging involves the coaching and mentoring of individual employees. A leader must know the respective strengths and weaknesses of their key people. They must have a commitment to their people constantly improving and growing. In order to do that, there is a degree of micromanaging involved. For example, if a letter is written by an employee that isn't concise, clear and focused, a manager has the responsibility of explaining exactly what was missed and making concrete recommendation as to how to improve the performance. Then, there must be follow-up and more coaching. These things cannot be glossed over or managed from a distance. Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty and get intimately involved in the performance of your people.
Now the downside. Sometimes, extreme micromanaging wreaks havoc on an organization. It causes people to look over their shoulder unnecessarily and say to themselves, "If the boss is going to do every job himself and manage every detail of this project, what's the difference what I do? He is going to redo it anyway." That's bad. Over time, this type of micromanaging causes people to give less of themselves to the organization and become apathetic and ineffective.
The other problem with micromanaging is that there isn't enough time in the day for any leader, be it a governor, chief executive or college president, to manage all the details in their organization. Leaders must prioritize and manage their time. When an executive becomes so obsessed with making every decision himself, some things get missed. Sometimes, the things that get missed are big opportunities or thorny problems that need addressing.
Too much micromanaging also creates a climate of distrust. If your people don't think you trust them to do a good job, they can begin to distrust themselves and those around them. They stop sharing valuable information with other team members including you as the meddling micromanager. In the end, they are less willing to protect you when the proverbial doo-doo is about to hit the fan.
Just remember, saying, "If you want a job right you have to do it yourself," may work in certain situations, but as an overall, everyday philosophy for ANY leader of a large organization, it is a death sentence. If you are a micromanager or are being micromanaged by your leader. Write to me.