What kind of people leader are you? Do you empower your team to take risks, make mistakes, and tackle tough challenges on their own? Or are you someone who wants to stay involved with every step of a project or initiative your team members are assigned to? Perhaps you’ve noticed your team lacks confidence in making decisions or they’re waiting on you to move projects forward. If the last two sentences resemble your management style; you might be a micromanager.
This was a powerful lesson I was forced to learn in my work life. I advanced in my career by producing high-quality deliverables and outcomes. When I became a people leader, my perfectionist tendencies limited the professional growth and team atmosphere I wanted to provide for my team members. I wanted to dissect everything they produced. It was becoming impossible to meet timelines because of my need for all work products to pass through my hands. I also started to recognize that my need to do things my way was limiting our team’s creativity and engagement. Rather than producing innovative ideas and solving problems before they came to me, they intentionally came with a blank slate to our collaboration sessions.
I believe most of us micromanage because we think that’s the best way to get results. We have the skill, knowledge, and positive feedback from our past experiences to validate this approach. The challenge with this thinking is that it will get results, but not necessarily the desired results we were hoping for.
We might see high-potential employees get stale or move on to other teams where they have more autonomy. We also instill in our team a sense that we don’t trust them. Given these outcomes, what can we do to balance our need to be involved while building a high-performing, engaged team?
Start by interrogating your reality. Ask yourself, why are you micromanaging? What stories are you telling yourself about your teammates, their decision-making capabilities, and their limitations? What data have you gathered to form those opinions? Is it accurate or is there more to the story? Can you identify times when they took full ownership without you looking over their shoulder and got remarkable results?
It’s helpful to have a trusted colleague or friend ask you these questions so you can hear your thoughts out loud. If not, writing down and reflecting on your answers will also give you some insights into your biases that could limit the results you’re getting.
A powerful concept that we at Fierce Conversations teach new and seasoned leaders is the Decision Tree Model. This unique model distributes various levels of autonomy to your colleagues that allow you to factor in:
- The complexity and visibility of the responsibility/project
- The competency, capacity, and interest of the person receiving the responsibility/project
- Your desire to stay close to the major decision points in the responsibility/project
Intentionally working through these factors allows you to design your delegation strategy around the goals and priorities of your team, department, and organization while considering the professional development of each team member you are delegating to.
Visualize a tree and divide it into four parts: the leaves, branches, the trunk, and the roots. At the leaf level of this decision tree, you are delegating a new responsibility and providing complete ownership and decision-making rights to the person you are delegating to. You are ready to part with this responsibility and trust the new project owner to make decisions in line with the organization’s goals.
At the leaf level, you are empowering the “delegatee” with the freedom to run with the new responsibility and project without needing to report back to you. For micromanagers who like control, this level of delegation is one of the most difficult.
One step down is the branch level of decision-making. At this level, you still give autonomy to the “delegatee” to take the project and run with it, but you want to stay informed of key milestones or decisions being made. This allows you to report to our stakeholders and stay in the loop.
The trunk level is used when you are just starting to let go of responsibility. You can take your time to train and coach the delegatee. At this level, you make the final decision, but the delegatee is bringing ideas and solutions to the table as well as a recommendation of what direction they would head towards. This gives you a chance to assess their approach to decision-making before any action is taken. Most micromanagers delegate at the trunk level. They’re ready to share responsibility with someone but have a need to keep an eye on all decision points before they’re implemented.
The final level of the decision tree is the root level.
This is where you either can’t delegate the responsibility because there are other decision-makers involved, or you simply don’t want to, but you still desire some input from your teammates to gain different perspectives. If most of your team gets delegated responsibilities at the root level you end up limiting productivity, creativity, and engagement in others.
What I find most powerful about utilizing the distinct levels of the decision tree is that it creates clarity on how much ownership you want to share when you choose to delegate. When you check in regularly with your teammates, you’re also able to adjust the level of autonomy you share as people develop. This strategically expands the competencies of your team as their roles evolve and become more independent of your coaching in specific areas.
The more you see your teammates making effective decisions and getting impressive results, the less you will feel the need to micromanage.