You are not Apollo (the Sun God)

I hope that by now you have realised that I am absolutely against micromanagement. However, I am frequently faced by micromanagers who then complain as to why everyone keeps coming to them to get things done. Well maybe because you made all the arrows point towards you? Or because you fomented a culture whereby everyone believes that the Sun will not rise without your involvement, just like Apollo?

It does not take me much to realise the situation such managers are in. In meetings with them, the phone keeps ringing incessantly and the office door keeps being knocked upon – with different persons popping their head over and over again. In the midst of all this, I usually get “You see, how can I ever get any work done, I am always bombarded and disturbed all the time. People around me cannot do a thing without involving me”. This is where I usually smile as I get a strong sense of deja vu. Things, now even got worse with more people working remotely and so all the door knocking and head popping was substituted by endless Teams or WhatsApp chats.

In order to have time to work and reflect on the big picture (strategy), business leaders need to facilitate their team members’ independence. So I strongly advice all business leaders and managers to analyse the problem at hand. What are the real core reasons why your team members feel they need your input? Is it because they don’t have the confidence to make decisions on their own? Because they fear backlash if they make the “wrong” decision? Because they are unqualified or inexperienced?

Determining the core issues or issue will help you take corrective action accordingly. Once you understand what they’re coming to you about, then you need to determine why and what role you play in that…..and please take an objective look at yourself. Does your behaviour and the way you communicate enable or encourage your staff to:-

  • Inform you about every single issue?
  • Believe that you are the only one who is authorised to solve problems or make decisions?
  • Lack confidence in their own judgment or make the limits of their authority unclear to them?
  • Have good reason to fear making a mistake above anything else?

Below are ideas you can implement that will empower your employees, so that you can decrease the number of phone calls, office door knocking, head popping, emails or WhatsApp/Teams chat.

  1. Defend Yourself. As a business leader or manager, it is of course important to be available for your teams. But “being available” shouldn’t come at the cost of you being interrupted all throughout the day. So defending yourself by periodically closing your email, putting your phone on silent and out of sight and setting your chat tools to “do not disturb” and putting a “do not disturb” sign on your office door. Doing so will give the clear signal to your team that this model of behaviour is ok. If you never do it, your team won’t either, no matter what you say. However all this will be impossible at your organisation, if this is not part of the next points.
  1. Promote self-confidence in your team: It is important to you set boundaries for your team members, making sure they understand the responsibilities of their role, the types of decisions they can and should make on their own and the general limits of their authority. Then, as a business leader, you should encourage them to find their own solutions to day-to-day problems. Instead of answering questions, try using the phrase, “I trust your judgment.” The more successful your direct reports are in solving their problems on their own, the more their confidence will grow. This is a great way to develop your team members, while also reducing the interruptions you get on a continuous basis. So, if you are the micromanager type, who likes having a lot of control and being involved in every decision – please, do realise, that this is truly a burden on you and it is also stifling your team’s growth. You can’t do everyone’s job, nor should you. Empower your team members to make their own decisions. If you are unsure whether you are micromanaging – ask your most trusted colleague to give you honest feedback.
  1. Have a root cause approach, rather than patching it up: If there are team members whose judgment you don’t trust, beacuse of their poor track record, address the cause rather you getting involved all the time to patch things up. Understand as to why this is happening – Do such team members have a gap in their skill sets? Would additional training help? Are they new to the organisation? Occasionally, you may find you’ve made a mistake when you employed someone. The hardest questions to face are whether you have the right person in the wrong role, or whether the person isn’t a good fit for the organisation. Don’t drag your feet here. Make it a win for you and the employee by helping the person find another role at your organisation, or a new job somewhere else. This will enable you to cut your losses, as well as help develop your company’s reputation as a good place to work.
  1. Create a safe environment to make mistakes: If everytime someone does a mistake, you “lose it”, then no wonder everyone is coming to you before they do anything. People aren’t coming to you because they want your input, they’re just looking for a way to shift any future blame – they are coming to you to buy insurance against you “losing it” against them for any “mistake” they might do. This so called culture, will stifle growth and ultimately prevent your business from moving forward. Remember the old adage, “Praise in public, correct in private.” Speak to team members privately when one of their solutions does not provide the best outcome. Emphasize the idea that mistakes are opportunities to learn. Hold team members accountable to their decisions by using mistakes as teaching opportunities. Call attention to the lesson learned, and make sure it sticks, but if the decision was ethical and made in good faith, be supportive and empathetic.

By implementing the above, you’ll be able to minimise interruptions from your team members on operational, day-to-day issues. This will create new opportunities for you as a business leader, to focus on the big picture and to think about your business strategy, which should be your no.1 priority as a business leader. In the process, you’ll inspire confidence, innovation and creativity in your team members. When you empower your team to work more independently, you improve as a leader and ultimately, you contribute more to the success of the organisation.

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