Three Tips for Macro (Not Micro) Managers

Rebecca and Jason met in grad school. They went on to work at different firms, but eventually landed in the same company. They’re outstanding leaders in their own right, but both can be hit-or-miss when it comes to successfully managing teams. No one noticed, though, until their employees began chatting in the lunchroom about what working for their boss was really like.

The Macro vs. Micro Dilemma

Team leaders are warned from day one: “No one likes to be micro-managed.” Rebecca and Jason heard this drumbeat loud and clear in the same management classes. However, their interpretation and actions to mitigate this negative practice weren’t the same at all.

Recognizing what it took to become an all-state athlete in high school, Rebecca imported coaching into the heart of her leadership to build dynamic teams. She often jumps in on meetings and side conversations to gain perspective and give casual input.

Jason, on the other hand, relished his freedom as a successful entrepreneur in college and vowed to never get “in the weeds” with his people. He limits the number of lengthy meetings and makes sure people provide frequent updates.

What’s funny is both Rebecca and Jason think they’re doing a solid job avoiding micro-managing, but their teams too often feel otherwise. Leading people in a directive and collaborative way that upholds trust, commitment, and accountability is an ongoing tension—something Rebecca and Jason didn’t realize until long after graduation day.

People don’t want to be micro-managed. They want to thrive under a macro-manager—a leader who cares about the big picture, the value of details, and each person on the team as everyone turns vision into reality both strategically and tactically.

Rebecca and Jason each believe that macro-management is much better than micro-management, but how they get there and the results they’re experiencing are far from consistent. Their direct reports know it, and when they realized what their bosses could do to help, they headed back from lunch with three simple reminders scribbled on a napkin—three macro-management tips for Rebecca and Jason (and you).

Tip #1: Check In (Not On)

It can feel great to have an old friend check in to see how you’re doing. The opposite happens when your boss calls, emails, texts, or “stops by” to check on your work. Instead of randomly showing up like Rebecca or receiving basic project updates from a distance like Jason, how can you more intentionally connect with team members one-on-one and in groups? How could asking “How are you doing really?” and waiting for responses change the tone of your personal and professional relationships? Try relationally rebooting the way you check in (not on) people and their productivity through weekly in-person or video call meetings.

Tip #2: Talk With (Not At)

You don’t have to be bossy when you’re the boss. Your team learns best by taking ownership of their roles and spheres of responsibility, not being lectured. You help them grow most when you talk with them instead of talk at them. While Rebecca does build cohesive teams, she often speaks up when she stops by and her team mistakenly thinks she’s telling them better ways to work. Similarly, Jason’s email replies come across as so pointed that recipients miss his heart for them behind his words. The quickest way to stretch in talking with (not at) is to grow in curiosity by asking great questions and listening more. Next time you engage your team, start with a thoughtful macro-manager question, open the door for people to speak, and then follow up their response by saying, “Tell me more.”

Tip #3: Point Toward (Not Out)

Once teams have clear direction, “people need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed” (thank you, Patrick Lencioni, for this reminder from Samuel Johnson). The leader’s job is to continuously point toward the future, not constantly point out problems as a way to police their people. Like Rebecca, you might have strong rapport with direct reports and employees, so don’t let being nitpicky undermine the end game. Or, like Jason, you might have a fantastic feedback and accountability system, but don’t dismiss the bigger picture by overly dialing in on details. You can expand your abilities as a macro-manager by routinely connecting initiatives, tasks, and people to  your collective mission. Consider your teams: what is one way you can better point toward (not out) so others envision the horizon beyond the challenge they’re facing?

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