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Joseph Ottorino is managing director at Virgin Mobile Canada.
Joseph Ottorino is managing director at Virgin Mobile Canada.

LEADERSHIP LAB

How micromanagers can manage themselves Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

Through my years in business I’ve worked with many different types of managers. I’ve shared an office with autocrats who didn’t listen to anybody but themselves, with democratic leaders who collaborate with employees to make decisions, and most types in between. Every style has its benefits and drawbacks, but there is one that disguises its worst traits behind a facade of seemingly solid managerial techniques – the micromanager.

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Micromanagers are often organized and capable of delivering solid results, yet so overbearing that working with them is a real challenge. Through their overly hands-on approach they prevent co-workers from feeling empowered to make their own decisions and ultimately dampen morale and productivity. Their desire to take on every tiny task also stifles their own ability to see the big picture and ultimately grow as a leader.

But micromanaging is a habit that can be kicked. If you or someone you love may be a micromanager, the first step is admitting there’s a problem. So here are some of the warning signs to watch for:

  • You call the office “just to check in” when you’re away, whether you're in bed with a 101-degree fever or sipping a margarita on the Mexican Riviera.
  • You want to know where your employees are, and what they are doing, every moment of every work day.
  • You tell employees not only what to do, but exactly how they should do it.
  • You regularly obsess over the small details, instead of spending your time looking at the overall strategy.
  • At the first sign of trouble, you snatch the task away from the employee and do it yourself.
  • You discourage others from making decisions in your absence.

Any of those statements sound like you? If so, you might just need to admit that you’re a micromanager. But don’t worry, you can be reformed. Here are four tips to help rein yourself in and let your team thrive.

Master the brief

Kicking off a project with a strong brief sets your team up for success and can curb the need to micromanage. So before you delegate any work, take a little extra time to make sure your team understands your expectations, what success looks like and exactly when you want to be updated on progress. Then let your team execute and share their progress at the predetermined touch points. Resist the urge to look over their shoulder every step of the way.

Coach, don’t tell

If your team strays from the brief, or is missing something crucial, you can step in, but then step right back out. Share your concerns and then leave it up to them to find a solution. Simply fixing everything yourself doesn’t help your team develop skills and think strategically. Use these occasions as a teaching opportunity to help them grow. This approach helps you become a better manager with a more successful team.

Different paths can lead to the same destination

Evaluate results, not process. Everyone approaches tasks differently and there’s more than one way to get to the finish line. Recognize that your own approach, while effective, may not be the best or only option. This is a lesson you can only learn by allowing some deviation and even experimentation. Focus on the results and as long as your goals are met – in a way that falls within company guidelines, of course – consider the project a success.

Build them up, don’t break them down

When evaluating results, focus on the work, not the individual. But also recognize that your team likely takes pride in the work they do, so it’s important to make sure the feedback you share is constructive. Explain what you’re happy about and what can be improved. As important as constructive criticism is to honing your employee’s skills, praising the good work they do is just as valuable.

Learn to let go

What is even more difficult than learning to delegate, more important than learning that different paths can reach the same goal, and more helpful than building up your team, is learning when to let go. Once your team’s hard at work on a project and you are getting steady progress updates on time, give the reins some slack and let go. Trust your team to deliver results. After all, if you didn’t think they could do their jobs, you wouldn’t have hired them in the first place.

When it comes down to it, you want to get the best out of your employees and they want to get the best out of their experience on your team. To do that, you need for your team to feel a sense of ownership and accountability for their work. This happens when you coach and collaborate, not impose and ignore. When people feel invested and respected, the organization benefits from a talented brain trust of ideas and initiatives driven by what’s best for the company and its customers.

Finding the right balance between guiding your team to success and imposing it upon them is difficult and takes a lot of practice. But as long as you pay attention to how your management style is being perceived and work hard to be a manager that brings out the best in their team, the rest will fall into place.

Joseph Ottorino (@joseph_ottorino) is managing director at Virgin Mobile Canada (@virginmobilecan).

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