Micromanaging Destroys Initiative


Control is the opposite of trust. This is a challenge for managers who believe they have the clarity to see the right decision for those they manage, yet see their employees going the “wrong” direction. Often they decide to use their control to influence the situation, robbing others the chance to learn from experience and keeping them for learning new ways to solve problems. Control may reap benefits in the short-term, but at loss of possible long-term benefit.

Control doesn’t just illustrate a lack of trust, it also destroys initiative. Taking initiative requires risk. It means doing something because we think it’s the right thing to do not because someone else asked us to do it. It means both identifying the unseen problem and fixing it. We spend emotional energy to step up and solve our own problems. When that endeavor succeeds, we want to do it more. But like trust, this cycle can be broken more quickly than it can be built. I’ve seen this firsthand.

I was working in a group that had periods of open exploration, where engineers were given responsiblity and ownership over particular areas. The engineers grew and were excited to do what they were doing. They started showing some outstanding and more versatile skills than we had seen. Then the leader started feeling uncomfortable with the situation. Things were getting away from his vision and he started issuing mandates or simply overwriting the work that had been done. After feeling better, he again stepped back and wanted everyone to go back to having ownership over their respective areas, but the initiative had been squelched. It took even longer before the engineers started taking initiative again.

Teaching initiative is tough. It means creating a rich soil that others can thrive in: a place where their experiments are rewarded and success breeds greater success. Micromanagement is like adding salt to the soil, it kills not only what has begun, but can keep future sprouts from even starting. Since no management is almost just as bad, it requires a careful gardener to be good.







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