Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on July 13, 2020.
Micromanaging may grant managers peace of mind, but the habit can backfire, eroding trust between them and their direct reports, Serenity Gibbons writes for Harvard Business Review, where she describes three ways managers can kick the habit and develop a better rapport with their reports.
"No one sets out to be a bad supervisor, but the role has a way of turning some of the most talented leaders into micromanagers," Gibbons writes. "In some cases, managers don't even realize they're gravitating toward bad habits until they start losing people, productivity, and power."
3 tips to stop micromanaging
With these concerns in mind, Gibbons explains three ways managers can take a step back from over-managing their direct reports.
1. Check in a little less. If you frequently check in on your employee's progress on a project, you're probably "hovering," Gibbons writes. Instead of constantly checking on your direct report, let them take the lead on updating you on their progress. "A good way to set this expectation is to schedule regular meetings to discuss the progress of current projects," Gibbons writes. "That way, employees know when you expect an update and can plan their days accordingly." This approach also takes some responsibility off your hands by allowing you to focus on outcomes rather than the details of how your direct report is handling a project.
2. Trust your team. If you find yourself constantly telling other people how to perform their tasks, you might not be allowing your team members to use their expertise, Gibbons says. "You may be tempted to rationalize your micromanagement because you think that, as a manager, you need to have all the answers," but "you don't," Gibbons writes.
As a manager, your job is not necessarily to have the best ideas, but to able to recognize them.
The first step to break this habit is to remember why you hired your team in the first place. "Here's a big hint: It was for their expertise," Gibbons writes. Instead of micromanaging how a direct report completes a task "communicate what you need, provide them with the support and resources to accomplish their tasks, and then trust them to carry out the task," Gibbons writes.
3. Push your comfort zone when it comes to delegating. "[W]hen a critical task arises, you may tend to fall back on the old adage: 'If you want something done right, do it yourself,'" Gibbons explains. You might even "convince yourself it's better for her to learn by watching rather than by doing," Gibbons writes. "But that approach doesn't bode well for your team's future—or for shedding your reputation as a micromanager."
Delegate harder tasks to your direct reports early on, Gibbons contends. For instance, Greg McBeth, head of revenue at Node.io, said he lets new hires participate in deal-making. After the sales call, he'll review the task with them to discuss what went well and things they could have done better. "You shouldn't worry about letting them spread their wings on a sales call," he said.
Whenever you find yourself micromanaging, take a step back from the situation, Gibbons says. "It's almost always possible to find an alternative to micromanagement behavior," Gibbons writes. "Empower your team to take on more, and you'll find yourself worrying—and controlling—a lot less" (Gibbons, Harvard Business Review, 12/2).