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Please Give Me Space: 11 Signs That You Are A Merciless Micromanager

A 3-minute diagnostic to decide if it's time to take a step back

Read Time: 3 minutes.

I’m on the road today for a speaking gig at YPO Kansas. My 3-hour layover is your 3-minute playbook.

I got this email from a reader:

“My team had an ‘intervention’ last week. They said that I’m ‘ruining the team’ because of my ‘unrealistic expectations and constant micromanagement.’

How do I know if I’m a micromanager?”

For you, dear reader, the answer is simple:

You are.

If your team:

  • Got frustrated enough to vent to their colleagues

  • Connected multiple dots to determine there’s a pattern

  • And then mustered enough collective courage to tell you

There isn’t much to do except say ‘Thank you’ and start fixing it. Fast.

But it’s not usually quite so easy to spot.

Micromanagement is subjective. Its brutality is in the eye of the beholder. One person’s clear direction is another’s stifling oversight.

But some signs are universal. Others are more subtle.

Use this quick diagnostic to get a sense if you’re managing from a healthy distance or if you’d benefit from taking a few steps back.

You can also print it out and accidentally drop it on your boss’ desk. Assuming, of course, that they’re not standing right over your shoulder.

11 Signs You’re a Micromanager

This diagnostic is easy. The higher the number of these ‘signs’ that sound like your team, the higher the chances that you’re being more harmful than helpful.

1. You can’t go on vacation.

If you are the glue that holds everything together, that’s not managing. That’s doing. You should be able to step away for a week and only be required to engage for emergencies.

Worse, this dependency will keep you from getting promoted. You can’t step up if you can’t step out without things breaking.

2. You only hear “Yes.”

The chance that you’re always right is zero. It’s impossible. So if you’re only hearing ‘Yes,’ you have one of two problems:

  • Your team no longer cares

  • Your team knows you’ll overrule them anyway

In either case, there’s a good chance you’ve earned this apathy.

3. You can’t think of the last question you asked.

People want to feel valued, like their opinions and expertise matter. The easiest way for them to feel this way is to actually value their opinion and expertise. And the easiest way to show them is by asking them to share their opinion and expertise. And being genuinely interested in their response.

If your question-to-direction ratio isn’t at least 1:1, humble yourself and fix it.

4. You burned out weeks ago.

You’re exhausted, and we’ve already noted you can’t take a break without creating more work for yourself. And leaders burnout for the same reasons they’re employees do:

  • You’re not growing

  • You’re not having an impact

  • You’re not able to get it all done

The root cause is almost always because you’re slipping down to do your team’s job instead of stepping up to do yours.

5. You protect your boss.

You should want your team to talk to your boss.

Will they tell her things are imperfect under your leadership? Of course.

Will they feel more valued and empowered because they know her? Definitely.

Plus, she’ll be able to use their insights to make connections and offer coaching to help you that would have otherwise been missed.

That protection story you tell yourself? You’re really protecting yourself, not your manager. And if you’re that worried about mistakes, chances are you’re stopping them.

Speaking of…

6. You see no mistakes.

Unless you’re in charge of the cooling rods at a nuclear facility, the game for most leaders isn’t zero mistakes. Instead, it’s the right mistakes:

  • Ones that test ideas and open new doors

  • Ones that stretch and develop the team

  • Ones that show calculated risk-taking

If you’re getting no mistakes, aim a little higher and up the error rate.

7. You can’t keep stars.

The best people know their value. If you’re preventing them from having the impact they’re capable of and increasing their value, they’ll be the first to walk.

It can be easy to write off these “mercenaries” for not being “missionaries,” but don’t. Their confidence to find another hill to climb would suggest you’re holding people back from higher peaks.

8. You are the bottleneck.

Peter Drucker quickly reminds us, "In most organizations, the bottleneck is at the top of the bottle."

How many things are waiting on you? And how long have they been stuck?

If it's more than you can count on one hand and for more than a day, you're likely controlling too much. The chance that there are that many decisions that can a) kill you and b) can't be reversed is exceptionally low.

Make them. Or better yet, let someone else.

9. You can’t name your employee’s kids.

Challenging directly must be paired with caring personally (h/t Radical Candor). Otherwise, people will feel like objects, not assets.

If you can’t name the people closest to your employees or how they spend their weekends, you might be long the work and short the worker.

See if you can balance that deficit.

10. You meet too often.

Meetings might give the illusion that you're in control, but they're not where the work happens. And the more you meet, the less work there is to discuss, review and improve.

Want a surefire way to raise morale? Have fewer meetings.

11. Your meetings are empty.

A leader I coach said he stopped doing 1:1 meetings because his people have yet to come with any meaningful topics.

There are only a few reasons why this could be true:

  • They don't want to create surface area for your meddling

  • They don't feel much happened since the last meeting

  • They don't have very much to do (or talk about)

In all three cases, you need to empower them to chase bigger goals.

Expect more. And you'll have more to talk about.

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