Leaders often choose the wrong issues to get involved in. They meddle in activities that can and should be addressed by their subordinates while neglecting decisions that only they can make. Many leaders are consumed by the minutiae and out of touch with the strategic. The costs of both problems are high. Are you getting involved in the right stuff?
The direct costs of micro-management
As a leader, when you get too involved in the routine activities of the team, you hold them back. By being ever-present, you allow your team to delegate up. This restricts team members’ accountability, detracts from their learning, and reduces the likelihood of finding a suitable successor. Getting involved at too low a level stunts the team’s growth.
Getting too far in the weeds also has a negative impact on morale. When you’re right in the action, there is less room for your team members to make a meaningful contribution. When you do their job for them, you rob them of the satisfaction of adding value. Engagement will suffer.
The opportunity costs of micro-management
Micro-managing is inherently bad, but it also has the indirect effect of taking your attention off of the more strategic issues that your subordinates can’t be expected to know or understand. By virtue of your broader scope, you will have context that they won’t have. Your team is counting on you to add value at that level. You need to set direction, make difficult trade-offs, and manage performance. If you keep rolling up your sleeves and diving into the action, you won’t devote the time and attention required to position your team for success.
Set yourself up well
The best way to stay out of the weeds is to set things up well from the start. Be very clear with your team about your vision, the objectives, and your priorities. Help them understand how you want them to deal with the inevitable trade-offs they will make on a daily basis. Most importantly, establish the thresholds within which you expect them to make the decisions. Provide some leeway so that they have the opportunity to spot sub-par performance and attempt to rectify it on their own. If you automatically take control anytime something is off plan, they’ll never learn how to right the ship.
What to stay out of
If you have provided clear direction on where you want the team to go, how fast you want them to get there, and how much wiggle room they have to course correct issues, then you can stay out of the vast majority of day-to-day activities. It’s important to show your interest in the work of the team; you just need to do it without taking the reins.
Resist the urge to get involved when:
- There is a single troubling data point. Let the team investigate and determine if there’s a concerning trend
- A team member is struggling with something. Let them struggle a little and see if they figure it out or turn to their peers for help
- Tension is arising between two groups. Allow things to play out for a little while to encourage the team to forge stronger relationships and learn to manage conflict
Even though you’re not meddling, show that you’re paying attention by asking these types of questions as you interact with team members:
“What’s the most important thing you’re working on this week?”
“What are you wrestling with at the moment?”
“What do I need a heads up on?”
“Where are you making headway?”
What to get involved in
Being deliberate about where you get involved does not mean being an absentee manager. There are times when you need to insert yourself in the situation because the risks or consequences of letting the team handle it are too high.
Get involved when:
- There is a significant risk to the organization (financial, reputational, safety, etc.) that the team is not able to mitigate
- The team needs additional resources that they aren’t able to access without you
- An individual’s incompetence threatens the team’s results
- A conflict between parties has escalated beyond the point where they can resolve it themselves
- Better than expected results need to be understood and capitalized on (it’s not always negative situations that require deeper investigation)
Too many teams are sailing along with everyone on the decks and no one holding the rudder. As a leader, you need to be very deliberate about what you get involved in. Try to stay out of the issues that provide great learning opportunities with manageable risks. Only get involved when things are headed the wrong direction and the risk is too high for you to be hands off.