5 signs you’re a micromanager – and how to stop

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Feeling stressed out, overworked and disconnected from your frustrated team? Don’t become a micromanager – follow our guide on how to right wrongs and put your best foot forward.

Even the best leaders can slip into bad habits sometimes, but nobody wants to be the dreaded ‘micromanager’. Obsessing over tiny details, struggling to delegate and quizzing subordinates on their timekeeping can all be signs that you need to take a step back and learn to trust your team.

Here, we take a look at 5 signs that could mean you’ve become something of a micromanager, providing tips on how to fix them to reduce your stress levels and get your team back on track.

1. You’re obsessed with minor details

Ever found yourself agonizing over which font to use? As a manager, worrying about minute details isn’t an effective use of your time. This also takes ownership away from the skilled person you hired to do the job – sapping their drive and sense of job satisfaction.

Not only will this behaviour slow down your projects and frustrate your team, but you’ll be less likely to anticipate problems before they arise (meaning you spend more time firefighting) and even miss opportunities for growth.

How to fix it: Focus on ‘what’ not ‘how’

Most people need to have some input into the projects they’re working on to feel invested in them. When you’re too prescriptive about exactly how you want your team to complete a task, you stifle independent thought and creativity. Give your team missions instead of instructions and you might be surprised by what they achieve.

The next time you assign a task to a member of your team, explain what you expect from the end result – but don’t tell them how to get there.

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• Be clear about your desired outcome. What must be included in the final draft or product? What criteria should it meet? Who is it for?

• Give guidelines. For example, if this is a visual project, make sure the person has access to your brand style guide.

• Set boundaries. Define deadlines, budget restrictions and resources they’ll have access to during the project.

When you give your team the freedom to use their initiative, they’re more likely to enjoy their work and produce better results.

2. You talk more than you listen

Think back to your last meeting. Did you spend most of your time listening or addressing the other attendees? Micromanagers tend to get carried away and talk more than they should. But listening is key if you want your team to come up with new ideas, share honest insights and stay motivated.

How to fix it: Practice active listening

Active listening is a skill that separates great leaders from micromanagers. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

• Make eye contact. Body language is a big part of showing people that you’re listening. When a team member is speaking, stay focused on them.

• Don’t interrupt. If you spot an issue with a colleague’s idea, don’t interrupt as this can be frustrating for the speaker and other attendees. Make a quick note to follow up later instead and turn your attention back to the meeting.

• Ask open-ended questions. This is a great way to show your team that you value their input. If you’re not convinced by a concept, try posing your questions to the room, “What possible risks are involved with this strategy? How might we combat them?” You’re likely to reach a solution faster and increase buy-in from your team.

• Make time for a Q&A. This gives your team a chance to raise concerns and makes sure nobody leaves the meeting confused about their next steps.

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3. You find it difficult to delegate

Feel like you’re working harder than ever but not seeing the results you want? Micromanagers tend to be extremely results-focused. But their risk of burnout is high because they want to handle everything themselves. Remember you have a team of specialists who are ready to support you. Learn to let go and not only will you enjoy a reduced workload, you’ll get better results!

How to fix it: Put processes in place

“Learn to trust the process.” Using processes in your business will help give your team structure in their work, save you time onboarding new starters, and give you the confidence to take a step back whilst maintaining some sense of control.

Here’s an example of a basic product development process:

1. Ideation. This starts with a team brainstorming session, in which everyone comes up with new ideas to tackle a specific problem.

2. Evaluation. This stage involves internal discussion and market research to determine the feasibility and value of the idea.

3. Pitching and approval. The team collate their research and pitch the idea to senior management for feedback.

4. Planning. A project plan is agreed on between the team and management, stating deliverables, budget, scope and timeline for the project.

5. Development. The team create a prototype.

6. Testing. The prototype is tested for functionality and suitability for its target market. Customers are invited to try out the product and give feedback.

7. Review. The team report results from the testing phase and discusses possible solutions with management.

8. Refining. The team collate feedback and refine the product. Return to the resting phase if necessary.

9. Final sign-off. The team present the final product to management for approval, before the project is handed over to the commercial team.

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Remember to make your processes accessible. If this is your first time putting your systems on paper, consult with your team to find out what works well for a particular goal and what stages hinder productivity.

4. You’re always checking-in

Once you delegate a project, how often are you checking-in with that colleague? It’s almost impossible to be productive with a manager constantly looking over your shoulder. In practical terms, checking up on your team too regularly interrupts their workflow and causes them to lose momentum. From a wellbeing perspective, constantly hovering over an employee sends a negative message, “I don’t trust you” or “I don’t think you’re up to this task.”

How to fix it: Schedule touchpoints in advance

When you delegate a new project, agree on set progress meetings from the start. This sets expectations for both yourself and your direct report, helping you resist the urge to micromanage. Here’s an example:

You brief your head designer on a new campaign. You set a deadline for six weeks’ time and build the following touchpoints into the delivery schedule:

• End of week one. Meeting for your designer to present ideas. You give feedback on the initial concept and make sure they have all the resources they need.

• During week three. Meeting for your designer to give a progress update. You’re here to answer questions at this stage.

• During week five. Meeting to check if the project is on schedule to meet the deadline and if not, agree on how you can support them.

How many touchpoints you need during a project will depend on the team member’s level of experience, how long you’ve worked together and the importance of the project.

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5. You’re constantly answering questions

The best leaders are available when their teams need support. But if dealing with queries from your team is taking up most of your day, then it’s likely there’s a gap in the flow of information. Give your team the tools and the knowledge to make informed decisions and you’ll not only spend less time answering questions, but your team will come up with their own solutions.

How to fix it: Share high-level goals with your team

It’s easy for employees to feel disconnected from ‘the big picture’ when senior management keep it to themselves. Research shows that 95% of employees don’t understand their company’s wider strategy – yet teams are most productive when they are well-informed and share a common goal.

Schedule quarterly meetings with your whole team or team leaders. Talk through your goals for the quarter, update them on management’s latest strategy decisions and review recent progress. This gives your team context for the work they do so that when faced with a challenge they can ask themselves, “Does this align with our company goals? If not, what kind of solution would be a fit?”

Sharing your company’s high-level goals will encourage your employees to use their own judgement to solve problems without relying on your input.

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