There’s a fine line between keeping in close touch with how your subordinates are doing and micromanaging them. Some team leaders in our study stepped way over the wrong side of that line. Operating under a misguided notion of what management involves, they held themselves aloof from their teams. Rather than working collaboratively with the team and checking in with team members regularly, as Graham did, these team leaders spent much of their time checking up on people. Subordinates can tell the difference, and the consequences for inner work life are not good.
Managers who get it wrong make four kinds of mistakes. First, they fail to allow autonomy in carrying out the work. Unlike Graham, who gave the NewPoly team a clear strategic goal but respected members’ ideas on how they could meet that goal, micromanagers dictate every move. Second, they frequently ask subordinates about their work without providing any real help when problems arise. Micromanaging leaders come across as judges and dictators, rather than as coaches and colleagues.
Third, micromanaging leaders are quick to affix personal blame when problems arise, rather than guiding subordinates in an open exploration of causes and possible solutions. Those subordinates end up striving to look good rather than honestly discussing obstacles and how to surmount them. They live in fear, and their perceptions of the manager settle into a permanent trough.
Fourth, the team leaders in our study who got it wrong rarely shared information with team members about their own work. Graham and other effective team leaders realized that, by virtue of their special roles, they were privy to vital information about many issues relevant to the team’s work. These issues included upper management’s views of the project, customers’ views and needs, and possible sources of assistance or resistance within and outside the organization. Some team leaders jealously guarded such knowledge as a marker of their status, doling it out as a favor according to their whims. When subordinates realize that a manager withholds potentially useful information like an overcontrolling parent, they feel infantilized, their motivation stalls, and their work is handicapped.
The Progress Principle, by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, pp. 166–167.
This post has not been revised since publication.