The movie Horrible Bosses is a disturbing snapshot of what is happening real-time in many places of business around the world. How many times do you find yourself nodding your heading in agreement because you are familiar with hearing the story of a bullying boss who doesn’t give a rip about you?
I couldn’t help but think about when I was a dysfunctional leader at the Happiest Place in the world. I know my team members said it many times, “if my boss doesn’t trust me to do my job, why did he/she ask me to marry this company in the first place?”
This is the million-dollar question that gifted men and women across the corporate world ask every day. They scratch their heads and wonder why their insecure bosses won’t let them do the jobs they were hired to do. Could it be that he or she is similar to the movie horrible bosses?
Micromanagers – leaders who manage with excessive control or attention to detail – are one of the biggest reasons employees divorce their organizations. People don’t quit companies; they quit people – namely, their direct supervisors. Leaders who monitor their team members’ every move send the message that they don’t trust employees to get the job done and get it done right.
Trust is the emotional glue of all relationships – personal and professional. As soon as distrust creeps into a relationship, cracks begin to appear in its foundation. If trust isn’t rebuilt, people will look outside the current relationship for a new, trustworthy partner.
Following are just a few real-life examples of the negative effects of micromanagement in a professional marriage.
McSwain Flowers works for a major corporation and is considered a senior player among his peers. He makes more than $75,000 per year and reports to the vice president of his division. His primary responsibility is to establish corporate alliances with other Fortune 500 companies, which requires him to interact with high-level executives, including CFO’s. Yet, for whatever reason, McSwain’s boss doesn’t want him talking directly to the internal CFO and prefers that he initiate any emails or meetings instead of McSwain.
After being happily married to his organization for seven years, McSwain is fed up with his boss’s lack of trust. He has developed a wandering eye, looking through online job classifieds and dating other companies that value his talents.
Lori Miller joined her organization six months ago, after working with a Fortune 500 company for a decade. She has an MBA, and her core expertise is systems and processes. However, every time she presents an idea or suggestion that would streamline tasks and drive productivity, her boss (who has “grown up” in the company) buries his head in his hands and says he’s overwhelmed by his perceived complexity of Lori’s solutions. Thus, he becomes intellectually paralyzed and never makes a decision. Instead of supporting Lori and cutting her loose to implement her ideas, he leaves her hanging and simply tells her that she’s doing a good job.
Lori is a good corporate soldier and would prefer to stay professionally married to the company, but she has no respect for her boss and is starving for intellectual stimulation. The only thing keeping her in the marriage is the fact that if she leaves within the first year, she must repay the company the expenses it incurred to move her to its headquarters in the Northwest.
Anna Maria Garcia is bright, articulate and polished in working the political landscape of her organization. Her boss has been with the company for years and prides himself on being in “the club” – the good-old-boy network. She, too, has been in the organization for more than 20 years. She has established relationships with various departments and divisions, and has worked to build rapport with senior leadership. Anna Maria’s boss knows she is fully capable of doing a stellar job, but he nitpicks at her sales forecasts, constantly asking her to re-crunch the numbers when she attempts to explain valid shortfalls in revenue.
He frequently questions the competence of her team members and often suggests that he step in and have a conversation with them. Anna Maria has discovered that he steals her ideas, and if they succeed, he takes credit for them. However, if an idea fails, he shifts the blame to her. During Anna Maria’s last performance review, he told her that she wasn’t ready to be promoted and that he couldn’t support her. Yet, she fears going over his head to make her case with senior leadership. Anna Maria feels stuck, and for the first time in 20 years, she is considering a professional divorce.
Do any of these stories hit close to home? If, after reading the examples above, you think there’s a possibility you could be a micromanager, I invite you to do some self-reflection.
Leaders who micromanage do so for any number of reasons, including insecurity, fear and a need to be in control. Get honest with yourself – why do you feel compelled to control who your employees interact with and what they work on at any given moment? Identify what drives your need to micromanage, make a commitment to change, and then consider the following action steps:
For each member of your team, determine the best way to engage that person’s brilliance in the organization. Everyone has some kind of strength or skill. What can each person bring to the table and how can you leverage that ability? When you know each employee is operating in his or her area of strength, you can more easily release the need to be in control.
Give your employees exposure to senior management. Believe in them enough to know that they won’t do anything to embarrass you or themselves.
Ask your direct reports how they would like to be managed and held accountable for fulfilling their responsibilities. Together, establish milestones – points at which they will communicate their progress to you. Then, trust them to do what you hired them to do and get out of the way!
The brilliance of any organization is found in the hearts and spirits of its people. A leader’s role is to help employees release their professional brilliance. When leaders micromanage, their employees’ brilliance remains locked up and unavailable to help the organization meets its goals. And, just like the henpecked husband, micromanaged employees will eventually get fed up and fly the coop.