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When is 'Micro-Management' Needed?

On our leadership programs, delegates often discuss how to approach performance issues with their team when individuals are not doing what they should be doing, in the way they should be doing it and in the appropriate time frame. However, those same leaders / managers are also keen to avoid any suggestion that they are ‘micro-managing’ any of their team. 

Micro-managing is usually seen as negative and something to be avoided at all costs and leaders are often therefore reluctant to provide high direction for fear that it is interpreted as a lack of trust or a need to control. 

However, there are situations where it is appropriate (and necessary) for the leader / manager to provide clear and detailed instructions about how to complete the task. 

Where an individual has no or limited experience of the particular task, they will need more direction about how to approach the task. Simply handing over the task in this situation and leaving them to it (abdication) would inevitably lead to problems as they will need direction and support along the way to ensure that they can successfully achieve their objective(s). This can include new employees or experienced team members who have changed role or who are now carrying out a new task. Equally where someone is not performing to an acceptable level or is lacking in motivation they will also require a more directive approach. Micro-management is therefore only a negative where an individual has the necessary ability, confidence and experience to apply their own judgement to complete the task. 

So what does ‘high direction’ look like in practice? 

The leader / manager needs to clearly define ‘what to do’ – explain the task in detail, demonstrate how to do it, provide examples of what a good job looks like and make sure that the individual understands and agrees the boundaries within which they will be acting. It may be useful to set out the task step-by-step so that progress can be checked and monitored. 

Following up is crucial to ensure that progress is being made as expected and to provide an opportunity to provide additional direction if necessary. When a highly directive approach is required, the follow ups need to be frequent and regular. This may mean asking for a progress update daily, checking in with them often to discuss what they have done so far and making sure that they are clear on next steps.  For someone who is new to a task or is not performing on a task, this does not mean setting them a task and then waiting until the next monthly 1-2-1 to see how they are getting on – and then inevitably being disappointed that the desired progress hasn’t been made. 

Even as performance starts to improve, until they are regularly and reliably performing to a good standard, a high level of direction is still required. More support will be needed to boost their confidence and build skill and competence, so involve them in deciding goals and plans and give them your advice and ideas, but you should still be making final decisions. Listen to their concerns and help them to identify what is / isn’t working and make sure that you encourage, provide frequent feedback and praise. 

All of this is time-intensive and when we are busy and under pressure it can be tempting to focus on our own tasks, but performance issues will not be resolved and individuals will not develop their knowledge, skill or confidence without the necessary direction and support from their manager.  

Our own research over the last decade suggests that a highly directive style of leadership is one that leaders find most difficult to do. The good news is with coaching support and practise it can be learned and developed giving businesspeople a new string to their bow.   

To find out what your preferred leadership style is, answer five simple questions in our Game Changer challenge below:


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Our next LEADlight program starts in January. If you'd like to understand more about our program for middle managers and supervisors that helps them to develop their skills and awareness, improve their performance and get better results from their teams, and prepares them for senior management responsibilities, click here for more information.



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