I’ve had the privilege of working for and with many fantastic people in my career. Some were great because of their intellect and others for their leadership. But the best leaders I’ve worked for possessed the ability to encourage folks to do their “best” work.
Conversely the worst leaders I’ve encountered excelled at a task far different. You see they were experts at micromanaging. Much like many things in life, I didn’t truly comprehend the difference and the damage until I experienced it first-hand.
My boss, Tom (not his real name of course!) wasn’t a bad guy. In fact, he adored the company and treasured his position. The problem was that he simply didn’t feel any of his employees were capable of producing good work without his constant involvement.
To make matters worse, Tom didn’t possess the much needed confidence in his position. Instead, he felt that any mistake made by a team member could cost him his career and the respect of his peers. And just like that you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Over time, I personally witnessed the team change from one of positivity and engagement to one of dread, hate and discontent…all because of poor leadership. But the damage doesn’t end there. As a mid-level manager under Tom, I’m ashamed to say that I participated in the holocaust and unknowingly joined the ranks of the micromanaging. While it was a time in my career I have absolutely no desire to repeat, here’s what I learned from the “experience.”
Looking back, trust issues were the first ripple of discontent. Quite simply, team members felt that I didn’t trust them to produce good work without my constant involvement. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In hindsight, perhaps I should have shared with them that we were all working for an irrational person and that I too was the victim of micromanaging. Instead, I chose to put on my corporate hat and protect Tom. I never shared with them the hateful comments and ultimatums that I was subjected to on a daily basis. Regardless, whether in a personal or work relationship, trust is an absolute requirement for success. And it’s one that micromanagers simply don’t possess.
Great employees want to believe they are making a difference and providing value towards the goal. But it’s a little difficult to feel ownership over something that doesn’t even closely resemble what you created. By the time Tom finally approved a deliverable, it no longer looked anything like what a team member had originally produced. Admittedly on occasions, it was better. But much more often, it was just different and more closely matched what Tom visualized. The result? Team members felt absolutely no ownership in the work they produced. Morale took a nose dive and I became known as the manager with the red pen that destroyed their efforts. If you want to be a great leader, always find a way to give your team ownership over their efforts.
While I was doing “my time” under Tom (and yes it often felt like I was in jail!), I learned a great deal about micromanagers. Perhaps the biggest revelation came the day I realized that it was all about respect. You see, leaders like Tom quite simply don’t respect people, their abilities or their intellect. And while it’s only a seven letter word, respect is absolutely critical to employee engagement. Respect the individuality, expertise, effort and professionalism of your team and you’ll be amazed at the uniqueness of results and success you’ll achieve.
While I had the privilege of meeting many great (and talented!) people, working for a micromanaging leader was quite simply no fun. I found myself caught in a continual abyss between protecting my team from the wrath of Tom while still allowing them the freedom to produce great work. You could say it was the proverbial rock and a hard place.
Looking back, I would make lots of changes but I wouldn’t change the experience. Surviving Tom’s style taught me a great deal about myself, people and of course the need for red wine!