Ode to the Micro-Manager

Oh, you over-looker, you shoulder crowder,
You egomaniacal, hovering cloud of tension
How I long to punch you in your disapproving face.

Perhaps, I’ve been unluckier than most but I have occasionally in my long career dreamed of wiping the arrogant grin from someone’s face.  Not typically with my fist – my hands are small and it would likely literally hurt me more than it would hurt them – but I understand the urge.  It’s annoying when your boss is not giving you room to breathe when you’re trying to do your job. And especially annoying when you’re pretty sure you know more than he or she does because, well, that’s why they hired you.

I will say that I’m one of the lucky ones. My recent bosses have given me all the room I need — room to do my job, to grow, to succeed, and even to fail. But I marvel at how many people do not have the same luxury, because in the end its to their benefit.  When you feel watched and judged all the time your self-esteem suffers, your work suffers and you and your colleagues feel like you’re in a military prison.

I know that managers have different styles, and there are those who still believe that micro-managing is an effective way to ensure productivity from staff. I’ve heard managers say, “Well, if you had my people, you’d watch over them too,” and, “If I want it done right, I pretty much have to do it myself.” One manager insists that his staff clock in and out every time they leave their desk because he doesn’t trust that they’ll put in a full day’s work. Twenty people have come and gone over the last two years in an office of eight people.  It’s just a matter of time, I suspect, before his reputation precedes him and only the young or the desperate agree to work for him.

Even if this was an effective approach to management, which I don’t believe it is, I can’t imagine living that way! The stress alone would kill me. What’s the point in hiring people if you can’t trust them to do the job? By not trusting them, you’re raising the stakes that they’ll fail.  Trust is a two-way street, and it needs to be earned by staff and managers.  But trust never develops if it’s not in the right environment to grow.

Take for example a colleague of mine who put together a PowerPoint presentation to deliver to senior management, only to have her manager tell her, “It’s inappropriate for you to give this presentation. I’ll do it myself.”

What message are you sending, other than “I don’t value your work, I don’t trust your judgement, and I’m so full of myself that I need all the credit for everything ever done ever?”

The scary thing is, if this approach continues, staff will never feel valued and will never have the opportunity to develop. They will lose hope, stagnate, and slowly rot at their desk and die lonely and forlorn. It’s amazing, the power of hopelessness.

But, what’s more likely, they’ll just leave you, and you can carry on doing it all yourself.

Long Goodbyes

shutterstock_314909786To say goodbye is to die a little, and long goodbyes just make your death hurt. You suffer through every extra second on the step of the railcar, arms wrapped around the neck of your lover, lingering with that look you can’t break. Oh, but you must! Otherwise the train leaves without you.

Recently, I started a new job. It’s difficult enough — it’s like learning to walk again but now you’ve got loads of baggage on your back. And saying goodbye to my old job has proved an equally daunting task. I still wake in the night worrying about things I can’t control, and feel that magnetic pull of the work I used to do.  It doesn’t help that my old job was “Manager of Issues”. The word “issue” is in the bloody title.

Time to let go.

Leaders often talk about that mental shift that must occur when you step into a leadership or  a new management position. You need to resist the urge to do the job you’re now managing, or more to the point, the job that someone else is now managing. What makes it difficult is that a key to your success in your previous role happens to be the relationships you built with your team. The trust. The reliance. The nurture and development and growth. You feel like you’re walking out on them, leaving them to the wolves.

Well, maybe you’re right! There are wolves out there who can’t wait to fuck up a good thing and undo all the work you put in. But the chances are this is not the case. If you’ve done your job well, your team is going to be just fine.

I know. The real fear isn’t that they’ll fail… it’s that they’re better off without you. They, under the leadership of their new manager, will make improvements where you could not, bring things forward. But you really shouldn’t be afraid of that — because that is a good thing! Every new leader should bring a fresh perspective and lead a team in new directions. Your old team deserves it. Besides, don’t you want to do the same with your new team? Aren’t they the ones that matter?

The only way you’re going to get anywhere is to move forward. That doesn’t mean you can’t drop by or call to say “Hello”. It just means you don’t have to hang off the edge of train as it starts to rumble out of the station.