The head of a fast food chain still approves the color and style of employee name badges.
The managing partner of a law firm individually initials each photocopy of firm-wide memos to make sure that each one is copied correctly.
The president of a major electronics distributor decides what sodas will be sold in the warehouse soda machine.
While many business leaders are proud of the fact that they are “hands-on,” examples like those above illustrate the fact that the line between effective management and ineffective micro-management is broad and blurry.
According to classic leadership books like Warren Bennis’s “On Becoming A Leader” and Kenneth Blanchard’s “The One Minute Manager,” a key leadership skill is the ability to delegate.
But delegating even the most minute tasks makes many leaders so anxious that they’re compelled to do those tasks themselves. Even when it’s clearly not in the company’s best interests for a top executive to waste valuable time approving the purchase of minor items like name badges.
So why do so many executives do the little things themselves? The more minute the task, the more likely that the executive is either having trouble relinquishing control to other people in general, or that they are experiencing a loss of control in some area of the company or in their private life.
While the executive gains a feeling of control by making as many decisions as possible, the losses to the company can be substantial, including executive time needed for more important activities, loss of self-confidence among employees, conflicts over who should decide what, and water-cooler talk that denigrates the company.
There are ways of redistributing responsibilities so that executives are free of the details, including creating a simple diary of tasks over the course of a week or two and then identifying those that can be delegated, who could do them and how they should be done.
But redistributing the tasks isn’t the difficult part … it’s helping a top executive or departmental manager see the negative impact of what they believe is not only positive but necessary.
If you’ve tried confronting a micro-manager directly over this, then you’ve learned the hard way that micro-managers don’t obsess over details because it’s logical, they do it for emotional reasons.
And that makes it very difficult – although not impossible – to change.
It’s a slow process and one in which the manager’s fears of what will happen if they delegate are incrementally addressed over time.
If there’s a micro-manager in your professional life, send me note at email@example.com, and we can e-mail on how to deal with it!