How not to be a micro-manager

Written by Kevin Murray CCMI Tuesday 08 September 2020
When managers create a ‘freedom framework’ for decision-making and empowerment, they enable their teams to be more autonomous
Hands controlling marionette puppet

Good leaders inspire confidence in employees to make their own decisions and deliver exceptional results, especially in this age of remote working. Autonomy is hugely important to people, and good leaders find ways to give employees that by creating a tight framework for freedom of action and decision-making. This is especially important in an age of remote working, when the boss is not on hand all the time to consult with or oversee work.

A tight framework comprises a clear picture of success, stretching goals that are aligned from top to bottom, and a strong culture where values are used to make decisions, and are not just words on a poster on a wall.

Directionless teams

No leader wants to have a team charging off in different directions, dissipating effort and causing friction and misalignment. They can only truly empower people when they are sure that every member of the team fully understands where they are going, how they’re going to get there, what their role is in achieving the vision, and what values will be used to make decisions along the way.

Shared values enable trust and liberate employees to be leaders; they can then take action within a framework that enables speed, creativity and agility. You have to take care to define and live the values that you want, and make sure they are delivered in the daily behaviours of your team.

These intangible values, often dismissed as soft and fluffy, translate into actions on the ground, which then translate into hard numbers in the books. Leaders need to create more leaders if organisations are to thrive, and leaders are only created when they feel empowered to make decisions without always having to ask permission from their boss.

Employees who feel they are being micro-managed tend to have very low levels of commitment and engagement. Those with high levels of empowerment have the highest levels of engagement – which shows that autonomy is not only good for the soul, it’s also good for productivity, because it encourages employees to go the extra mile and feel accountable for their own decisions and actions.

So, the trick is to ensure that they understand perfectly the purpose, vision, goals and values that you have defined as a ‘freedom framework’, within which they are fully entitled to make decisions when you are not in the room. The more empowered employees are, the more willing they are to give of their discretionary effort.

Using boundaries to give freedom

A freedom framework encourages decision-making and empowerment, because it sets boundaries within which employees can make decisions. Contrary to the concept of boundaries, these actually enable more empowerment because they make it clearer to employees what scope they have for decision-making.

Good managers are not only confident themselves; they spend time inspiring confidence in members of their team, reminding them of their strengths and past successes and expressing their belief in that individual, and faith in their abilities, their knowledge and their worth. They make a big deal about giving them the authority to make decisions in relation to their own tasks. They find ways to encourage decision-making and will always question when a member of the team brings decisions back to their leader. ‘Why did you feel you couldn’t make that decision yourself?’ they will ask, because they will be constantly looking for ways to remove any real or perceived barriers that prevent empowerment.

When managers reverse decisions that their employees make, those employees will feel undermined, under threat and undervalued. Worst of all, they will feel desperately uncertain. This will discourage them from ever making decisions themselves again.

Empowering managers know that their employees may not always do things exactly the way they would like them, but they will bring their own flair and style to their activities. So long as things are done on time, to the right standards and with the right results, the way in which they’re done is less important, unless it conflicts with the values of the team.

Of course, real empowerment is only possible when people feel fully capable of doing the job, and that they possess both the skills and knowledge to make the required decisions. Employees will think much more highly of their bosses when they are encouraged to develop their skills and given the means to find out anything they need to know in order to make decisions and act autonomously.

  • Are you doing the right things to create more empowered employees?
  • Do you tend to micromanage? Be aware: this will destroy empowerment and discretionary effort.
  • Do you overtly show members of your team that you trust them, and have faith in their strengths, experience and skills?
  • Do you help every member of your team to understand the corporate story, the team story, and their own story, in order to ensure complete alignment with goals?
  • Do you clearly give members of your team authority to make decisions within a tight framework, and ensure they are clear about the boundaries?
  • Do you work with your team to set team goals, and ensure that they all understand how those are aligned with the corporate goals?
  • Do you encourage employees to set their own goals, aligned to the team goals?
  • Do you regularly review goals, and in doing so, are you open to new ideas and different ways of achieving those goals?
  • Are you careful not to reverse decisions except under the most extreme circumstances? Do you let employees do things their own way provided the goals are achieved?
  • Do you seek ways to develop the team and ensure they have the right skills, knowledge and experience to be autonomous?
  • Do you frequently recognise and reward achievements, and encourage risk-taking?

To learn more about management styles, log into ManagementDirect and take a look at our hundreds of resources on the topic. Why not start with ‘256 Understanding management and leadership styles’?

Kevin Murray CCMI, is a business author and speaker with more than 45 years of leadership experience. This article is drawn from research he did for his new book Charismatic Leadership: The skills you can learn to motivate high performance in others (published by Kogan Page). You can find out more about his work here.

Don’t miss out - get notified of new content

Sign-up to become a Friend of CMI to recieve our free newsletter for a regular round-up of our latest insight and guidance.

CMI members always see more. For the widest selection of content, including CPD tools and multimedia resources, check out how to get involved with CMI membership.