Thursday, July 03, 2014

Overcoming Micromanagement, part 4 (A Work-Related Post)

Welcome to day four of my series on micromanagement. You can find the previous days linked at the bottom.

How do you overcome micromanagement?

The first thing we acknowledged is that most micromanagers do not know they are micromanaging. Secondly, it's out of some sort of deficiency: distrust, poor training as a leader, narcissism, work avoidance or because they enjoy being a bully. We only care about "how to overcome micromanagement" if we believe it is possible.

We can further boil all those things (except bullying) down to a single word: trust.

It's time to roll up your sleeves and earn that trust. This isn't something that will happen overnight, this is that point in the job where you have to put in your dues. People who have trouble "suffering fools" have trouble here. People who are smart, people who are driven, people who innately see the problems and clearly understand how to fix them struggle here. Without patience and perseverance, they may jump from job to job looking for that place with fewer problems or they may jump in on day one and try fix things, alienating themselves from their supervisors and peers.

This also may be a form of narcissism and can lead to really successful (or abysmal, colossal failures) if they go it alone to start their own business or non-profit. Most simply end up wrecking their résumé, something that may take years, if not a lifetime, to try to repair.

No, this is a multi-step process of earning trust, building influence and strategically picking your battles. You need to prove you can do the work, that you are capable of following instructions, and that you perform in such a way as to make your supervisor successful.  An unsuccessful supervisor will be miserable, make their subordinates miserable and never be promoted away.

When you make your boss look good, you've proven that you're willing to be a part of the team (or family) - you look good, your team looks good, your boss looks good. You're seen as reliable. You're starting to build the influence.

Why ask why?

This is the time to be asking "why" - another deficiency in many leaders is an inability/unwillingness to articulate the "why" - they may not know it themselves or they may foolishly believe you don't need to know it to do your job well. But you do.

Taking the right approach when seeking enlightenment further solidifies the idea in people's minds that you are a team player, that you are investing in their success. You can't come right out and accuse your supervisor of withholding valuable information and you can't act like a 5-year-old "why? why? but why?" but you can uncover the information you need to be successful.

The more "whys" you can get answers to, the more context, the more history, the more understanding you will have into the problem that has resulted in the micromanaging you now face.  This information that will be invaluable to you as you work to combat the micromanagement.

Now what?

Now, it's a series of tactics that, if only in your mind, speak to an overall intentionality. If you're going to turn a battleship and you've never seen a battleship, you're not going to turn it today. It's going to take research, time, effort, influence, trust (and a few tug boats.)

Prove you can follow directions.

Look for areas to innovate and show value, ways that make your supervisor look good. Act only with permission.

Look for small things you can take on to make their job easier. (Those who are trusted in small things may be trusted in large things.)

Look for the pain points your boss experiences. Solve for those. Then the next time the supervisor feels pain, they remember that you are someone who makes pain go away.

Ask small, innocent questions. Take your time. Allow your supervisor to impart wisdom. You, meanwhile, are assembling the knowledge necessary for your strategic moves.

Begin thinking about the areas where you are micromanaged. Your first idea might be the right idea, but it might not be as you get more context. Take the time to think through how you will approach. Look for the smaller gains, first.

Look for ways to use data. In a recent volunteer situation, a supervisor told me that they felt the (whatever) was too high. I told them that I had measured the (whatever) with a specific tool designed for that purpose and that it said the readings were within the desired range. He asked to see the tool and I handed it to him and he was able to read for himself the sticker that was applied to the tool that listed the desired range.  He asked how it worked, I showed it to him, and he wandered off, intently focused on its screen. A short time later, they handed me back the tool and that was the end of it. It's not my opinion against his, it's an impartial tool that will tell us both the same thing, calibrated by someone he already trusts.

What you're doing here is you're building trust and influence - your supervisor comes to learn that you deliver - you are reliable, dependable and the questions you are show that you are genuinely interested in the process. As you become more credible, the micromanager will feel less and less of a need to hover.

So... what about the flip side? What if you're a really self-aware individual and you realize "Holy crud... I micromanage!"? Let's talk about that tomorrow.

Overcoming Micromanagement


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