Micromanagement is one of those terms that almost immediately elicits imagery—and the overwhelming majority of that imagery could be categorized as unpleasant or distasteful or “something you wouldn’t want to have to work your way through again!”
It’s the boss that not only told you what to do and how to do it but who hung around to watch you implement those instructions and gave you in-the-moment feedback on every step you took. Or, virtually, the kind of boss that would send you an email and almost immediately follow up with an instant message and a text right before they called you to check in and see if you had any questions on what you needed to be doing.
On the other hand, have you ever found yourself in a set of circumstances where you actually wanted to be micromanaged? That may sound odd as that need doesn’t arise too often for most of us (or linger very long when it does). But it does happen!
Remember how you felt the first week COVID protocols went into effect? You couldn’t go to the office; your kids couldn’t go to school; strange people with gloves and masks were dropping off groceries on your porch and you had no idea how to effectively work from home (or if you did, exactly what you should be working on!). When we were all settling into the realities associated with COVID, I lost count of how many times I heard people say things like:
- “I just wish somebody would tell me what to do!”
- “I just got off a call with my boss who told me to ‘use my best judgement.’ What the (insert expletive) is that supposed to mean?”
Along similar lines and on a personal note, I find any task I am required to perform that has anything to do with cybersecurity paralyzing. If I am asked to download something, then install it and make sure it is operational in an effort to ensure our company isn’t compromised by some sort of a “bottom-feeding hacker,” I am quite literally immobilized. And, if I can’t track down a trustable millennial (at a minimum), to do all of that for me, I unabashedly insist on being micromanaged by a qualified autocrat until it can be verified that I am in full compliance.
So, perhaps micromanagement isn’t all that different from any other leadership style a manager has the opportunity to utilize. There is nothing inherently good or bad about it. It truly depends upon the situation that presents itself, the manager’s intent in selecting that approach and the impact that approach winds up having on outcomes and the people who are producing them.
Micromanagement is a short-term influence approach to be considered with individuals that have neither the skill nor the will to perform in the moment. They have no idea what to do and fear the consequences (real or imagined) of making a mistake. It’s difficult to imagine another set of circumstances where this approach would be viable.
When it is effectively employed, the manager’s intent is simply to create movement! That’s it! Tell the follower what to do and how to do it, then closely supervise as the follower takes a step, begins to develop and builds some confidence. It’s like the spark that starts the fire. The minute that spark ignites, it’s time to move on to a different approach.
When micromanagement is used appropriately, it really doesn’t feel like micromanagement. It feels like much welcomed direction, or guidance or structure. The pressure is off the follower because they simply need to comply with the instructions being given. And, as it applies to the task at hand, the manager’s job is by no means over, but the follower is at least on the most expeditious path to productivity.
At the end of the day, consider micromanagement a specialized tool that can be leveraged to serve a unique, but very important, purpose.