MicroManaging is NEVER Good

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

A couple of months ago, another big name publisher tried to justify petty behavior under the name “leadership.”  This time Forbes published an article entitled Sometimes Micromanaging Is Good – And Necessary by Christine M Riordan (click through the advertisement).  The subtitle explains further: “But not for long. Here are the times you have to do it.” (emphasis mine)

To her credit, the author qualifies her comments.  She defines “micromanage” as

“A dreaded word. The dictionary defines it as ‘to direct or control in a detailed, often meddlesome manner.’  Most popular management books call it something to avoid at all costs and give decisive tips on how not to do it.”

Throughout the article, the author uses a broad definition for micromanagement.  So broad in fact that she might mean “direction.” So for clarification, today let’s distinguish micromanagement from direction.  There are times when direction is the order of the day.  Direction can be done with agreement.  It can be delivered in a way that doesn’t meddle, or dismantle the respect and confidence of an individual.


Micromanagement is meddling, unsolicited direction.  There are times when it becomes necessary only because the manager can’t control behavior any other way.  That manager must micromanage.  But there are always ways to inspire rather than control.  No manager must micromanage, or attempt to control behavior from outside the individuals.  They should inspire it from within.

In other words, choose to lead instead of attempting to micromanage.  Leadership inspires internal control that comes from inside the team members.  Leaders inspire people to make right choices and perform in a way that enables successful outcomes.

Managers substitute micromanagement and external control when they have no other method.  Micromanagement is one of the default behaviors in the absence of leadership.  External control is the tactic of choice for the weak manager. Inspiration and internal control are the preferred tools of a skilled leader.

Direct with Respect

Sometimes leaders must give direction, or authoritative instruction to team members.

When people have little confidence AND little competence in the job at hand, direction is the order of the day.  I use Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership II as my model*.  But you can usually direct with respect, rather than as a meddler.

Three steps for positive direction:

  1. Give simple direction. State the facts.
  2. Reach agreement with the team members you’re directing.  Do they understand their next actions and expected results?
  3. Maintain the agreement until a designated follow up time.

In emergencies, such as those described by the author, explain to your team that you will provide direction and allow the people being directed to agree to the direction and report back with their results.  You may even tell them you’re going to watch.  Watch and direct for their benefit and only until they demonstrate their ability to operate without the supervision.  Maintain their individuality and respect them as contributors. You’re still following up quickly, but expanding the time as they demonstrate ability.

© bellemedia – Fotolia.com

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

laura hunter  |  14 Oct 2010  |  Reply

Hi Mike,

What a great article!
I believe that micro-managment never works. When the leader is operating from a position of weakness and the individual/team sees his management attempts as “meddling and unsolicited” how much hope is there for them to attain any long-term goals together (although this dysfunctional relationship may work in a short-term situation). I also firmly believe that you simply cannot control the actions of others successfully over the long-term.

Your article really made me think about the difference between control and direction. Direction would be more about setting very specific goals (this is what we need to accomplish) and boundaries (this is how we need to do it). Of course in this situation too the leader would also need to have credibility for others to accept his direction.

I really love your definition of micro-management, “meddling, unsolicited direction” According to this definition every teenager I know would consider themselves as being micro-managed by their parents!

Michael Cusack  |  09 Jun 2011  |  Reply

Different Perspectives

Two individuals with PHDs in Industrial Psychology recently highlighted the issue of micromanagement. They focused on the obvious problems of over-managing capable professionals, but also touched on the reality that some claims of micromanagement are false. In some cases employees perceive being “aggressively managed” either because they are incompetent, or simply do not like being managed (this point of view is presented at http://www.transassoc.com/whatismicromngt).

Mike Henry  |  10 Jun 2011  |  Reply

I read that article and it appeared to be critizing or challenging the definition of micromanagement. I agree that often, when people feel they are being micromanaged, they are really not providing enough information or displaying enough competence to put their manager at peace. Both of our posts separate the need for direction from directing a team member who doesn’t need it. Directing isn’t micromanagement; directing someone to do something for which they have demonstrated a proficiency, however is.

My posts were directed at the managers of the micromanagers. I’ve never successfully seen an employee affect the behavior of their manager through anything other than exquisite performance. See my latest post, Change Leaders or Change Leaders for further discussion on how to change an existing leader. But the leaders of micromanagers have a greater toolset at their disposal.

Thanks for sharing the link. Mike…

Join The Conversation