The Fine Line Between Micromanagement & Leadership

Have you been accused of micromanaging? How does micromanaging and overseeing every little detail of your team’s workflow hinder performance?

There is a fine line between leadership and micromanagement. Micromanagers are too nervous to give up control because they don’t trust their team’s judgment or capabilities. However, micromanagement actually hinders, not helps, performance.

Here’s how micromanagement hurts both your team and their performance.

The Dangers of Micromanagement

Micromanaging leaders are too nervous to give up control, thinking that overseeing every little detail of their team’s workflow will ensure their performance is up to standard. However, micromanaging your team members discourages them from taking responsibility for the broader mission. If your team members sense that you want to control everything, they’ll do nothing but wait around until you give them specific directions. By disincentivizing them from coming up with creative ideas and getting things done on their own, you stunt their personal growth and hurt the team’s potential for success.

Willink and Babin assert that any excessive reliance on accountability checks from above is a form of micromanagement, not leadership—for example, a supervisor in a restaurant whose only job is to ensure that food is being prepared correctly would be micromanaging. Such time-intensive micromanagement wastes the time of your upper-level leaders.

Every Member of Your Team Should Be a Leader

Instead of direct supervision, Willink and Babin suggest a more self-sustaining form of accountability: Every member of your team should feel internally motivated to hold themselves and each other accountable for their work. In other words, on the ideal team, all members would see themselves as a leader and accept radical accountability for the entire team’s mistakes.

How can you make this happen? Willink and Babin argue that the best way to inspire your team members to accept radical accountability is to explain how their jobs contribute to the mission’s success. In most cases, the problem isn’t that your team doesn’t want to try hard to succeed—they simply don’t see how their effort makes a difference to the team’s overall success or failure. If you make it clear how each member of your team supports the mission, you’ll make it easy for them to care about what they’re doing. This is far more effective than watching over their shoulder 24/7.

How to Inspire Leadership in Others

In Turn the Ship Around!, retired Navy captain L. David Marquet also advocates for radical accountability at every level of your team. Marquet used this philosophy to transform the Navy’s worst-performing nuclear submarine into its best and incidentally trained a number of leaders who went on to achieve disproportionate levels of success throughout the Navy.

While Marquet acknowledges that lower-level leaders need to clearly understand their roles to successfully contribute to the mission (as Willink and Babin claim), he argues that it’s possible to give them an empowering mindset more directly. Marquet offers a number of strategies to inspire your team to embrace radical accountability:

Teach your team to announce their intentions instead of asking for permission. By requiring his team to come up with plans before consulting their superiors, Marquet prompted them to take ownership.

Give your team time to come up with solutions. Even if he had a potential solution to one of his subordinate’s problems, Marquet withheld it so his team could practice brainstorming and feel responsible for their success.

Require your team to identify with the organization. Marquet required the submarine crew to introduce themselves to every visitor and welcome them to the ship. Acting as if they were proud to be part of the ship’s crew caused them to feel proud.
The Fine Line Between Micromanagement & Leadership

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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