Trust but Verify: Backing Away from Micromanagement

Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 10.50.05 PMCan you imagine if Joseph, in the Old Testament, had been micromanaged by Pharaoh as he saved grain for the famine? I wonder how prepared Egypt would have been if Pharaoh required daily reports from Joseph on every pound of grain harvested and stored.

Or what would have happened to the love story of Isaac and Rebekah if Abraham had sent a messenger, every day, to his servant to ask how the search for a bride was going?

Or how damaging would it have been to morale if Nehemiah had watched over the shoulders of every worker repairing Jerusalem’s wall, scrutinizing the craftsmanship of each stone before it could be laid?

As leaders, our overarching goal for our team is to empower them through guidance and counsel, not micromanage the daily details. But through a variety of situations, leaders so often fall into micromanaging – why?

An article by The Harvard Business Review states micromanagement is “not just a personality or leadership trait that can be blamed on genetic makeup or bad training. . . . Rather, it’s a breakdown in the fundamentals of delegation.” We may start off “trusting, but verifying” that our teams are clear about their goals and able to deliver on them, but that verification can quickly turn to standing over shoulders when we begin to fear the outcome of our work, mistrust our team’s ability to complete tasks to our standards, or feel insecure about our abilities to effectively lead a team. Bottom line, micromanagement is an outward expression of our fear of losing control. And can also be an issue of pride—that only you can do the project correctly, and your way is best. 

Our work—our ministry—is our passion, our God-given mission. We strive to do our best for the Lord and those we minister to. But when our sacred passion becomes tedious and overwhelmed with micromanagement, our team can become disempowered and demotivated. And this limits the organisation’s opportunities for growth and innovation, and stretches you too thin.

Here are three things I find helpful to remember when I am tempted to do it all:

  1. While you might very well be able to do everything, it doesn’t mean you must. One of the best ways to combat micromanaging is to understand your role—your unique calling and gifting. You are not responsible for everything. As leaders, we must learn to delegate and to let things go. Sure, your coworkers may not do a task the way you do it, but that’s okay. There are many ways to get things done. This may not come easily or naturally to everyone. But it will allow individuals on your team to flourish, as you help them realise their gifts and potential. This creates a sense of trust, unity, and ownership toward a common goal. And it allows you to focus on the areas where your expertise is needed the most.
  1. Supervision should lead to building the skills of the team, not just ensuring the job gets done the way you want. Good managers train and delegate. Make it a priority to help team members understand their roles and develop their skills, they will earn your trust and need less oversight. A good indicator of micromanagement is when the team member’s skills don’t develop, and they are frozen to make decisions and lead on their own. Don’t let what you call guidance become micromanagement.
  1. Do not confuse micromanaging with providing accountability. Are there times when you will need to provide extra guidance? Of course. For example, when a new teammate joins your team and is learning their tasks and earning your trust, when there is a new process or policy put into effect, or as a disciplinary action if a member is underperforming according to expectations. But there should come a time when the nature of your oversight moves from watching your staff member’s every move to confirming their successful completion of a project

Are you tempted to micromanage? If so, ask yourself why? Is it your pride? Control? Anxiety? Next, ask God to help you appropriately loosen your grip on control and set a new plan for your team by clearly communicating expected outcomes, outlining task levels that employees should or should not report to you on, and setting regular check-ins to verify their work. Then, slowly back away, trusting your team to do their jobs and God to uphold you in your commitment to trust.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing,” (1Thessalonians 5:11).

Article originally published in Prison Fellowship International’s PFI Roundtable.

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