When we hear “micromanage”, we cringe.

This leadership quality seems to have been around since the beginning of time, and might be the most talked about, despised, AND practiced.

We might immediately think of some hovering, nitpicking boss who made our lives miserable. We’ve probably all experienced this or know someone who has.

We’re quick to spot the classic micromanager and call them out behind their back.

“You’ll never believe the number of grammar changes he made to my deliverable…”

“They just couldn’t let me go to the meeting by myself and represent my work…”

“Pretty sure she corrected me 47 times in our team session…”

There are more flavors of micromanagement than what we typically talk about, and more going on under the surface – signals that are being sent, that are good for us to understand about ourselves or someone we’re working with that has this tendency.

Sure, there are the common flavors like the micromanager that hovers over everything and has to adjust or modify anything their team produces, or the leader who critiques every level of detail.

But what about the leader of a team full of people that defer to that person constantly? Often this deferring that the team is doing is a safe move they’ve learned, to always pass their work by their leader for adjustment. That’s a subtle, and often times accidental, flavor of micromanagement.

Or how about the leader that rescues their team from every form of tension, swooping in and taking control of a situation before it’s even mildly tense?

There are many, many more. And many of them are rooted by an internal need for control, a lack of self-confidence, or the absence of trust in the intelligence and capability of the team the leader is a part of.

Most of us have these tendencies as leaders – some micromanagers are disciplined, intentional, and card-carrying, but most are accidental.

Even if we have accidental tendencies to micromanage, remember that even if we feel it’s rooted in caring about the best outcome, it’s a diminishing quality. It lessens the resourcefulness and contribution of your team. It signals that you don’t trust that people are smart and can figure it out. It signals that you need control or perfection. It signals that you’re not empathetic to the effort your team puts in to show up every day trying to do a good job. And these signals aren’t the ones you’re probably looking to put out there.

So what can we do about it?

Here’s the hard part: ask someone. Ask them what accidental diminishing tendencies they’ve experienced with you. Or be direct and ask them if you come across as a micromanager and how that shows up. Then take that information and find one right thing, and try to change for the better.

Let’s all try something next week to turn down any accidental diminishing tendency we have. And shoot me a note on what you’ve tried!

Here are a few related resources that I’ve liked recently and have been sharing:

1 // This keynote by Liz Wiseman is one of the resources I share the most, because it sums up a number of flavors of the diminishing micromanager, also known as the “accidental diminisher”. (20 min video)

2 // We’re pretty harsh on ourselves – Ness Labs talks about the science of self-compassion and how certain practices can strengthen us. (8 min read)

3 // Jennifer Garvey-Berger talks about “The Complexity Paradox” – you might see a tie between how complexity can trigger “danger” for us – which leads to making moves we’d rather not, like the ones we talked about in this newsletter. Good news! – she gives us 3 things to try. (5 min read)

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