During a workshop designed to identify Moose-on-the-Table issues, Jon was surprised by the very clear and strong feedback from his organization that his management group weren’t acting as a team. They contradicted each other, waged petty turf battles, and reinforced departmental silos.
Jon’s response was like threatening to cut off an infected arm rather than then diagnosing and treating the cause of the infection. At their next management meeting, he “read them the riot act.” In a variation on the age-old bully boss tradition of firings-will-continue-until-morale-improves, he warned them, “If you don’t behave as a team, I’ll replace you with managers who will.”
A deeper assessment of Jon’s leadership behavior and team culture showed some of these common “moose problems:”
- The real conversations happen in the hallways or office after the meeting. Then, the true issues are clearly named.
- Team members complacently agree at the meeting — then go off and do their own thing. People who disagree, dissent, or push back against the group consensus or the boss are labeled as not being team players.
- Commitments aren’t kept, and deadlines are missed. It’s considered whining or coping out for a team member to give his or her real opinion about the feasibility of the plan.
- The manager dominates meetings and most conversations. Once he or she gives an opinion, everyone else stays quiet or falls in line behind the manager. Team members suck up to the boss and pretend the moose doesn’t exist.
- Sudden surprises often come “out of the blue” — especially from within the organization. The team manager is frequently surprised to see a simmering problem blow up into a full-blown crisis.
Are You an Anxious Micromanager?
This month’s Harvard Business Review features an article tracing the roots of many overcontrolling, moose feeding behaviors like Jon’s. “The Anxious Micromanager,” excepts from neuropsychologist, Julia DiGangi’s new book, Energy Rising: The Neuroscience of Leading with Emotional Power. She writes, “At root, the tendency to rely on command energy stems from a leader’s own anxiety and lack of confidence.” But she points out, “People, naturally wired for autonomy, resent feeling ‘bossed around’…human beings can handle not getting their way; what they can’t handle is feeling dominated.”
Like the perception of fair compensation, micromanagement depends heavily on whether we’re giving or receiving it. Most managers don’t feel they’re micromanaging. But 360 assessments of lower-rated managers usually paint a different picture. Their direct reports point to contradictory messages that variations of “you’re in charge of this project, but check with me first.”
DiGangi finds “command energy” is often not overt or aggressive. She explains, “It’s not so much that bosses are explicitly demanding, ‘Do this now!’ Rather, they’re communicating emotional energy that clearly signals I’m in charge, and you’re going to do it my way.”
Watch for the Micromanagement Signs
Just as surveys show 70% of us feel we’re an above average driver, most micromanagers don’t recognize their own behavior. DiGangi found “leaders hardly notice that they’re using it, but it profoundly affects everything they do…. asking too many questions, checking in too frequently, or giving too much advice.”
Poor leadership manifests itself in many ways. Micromanagement is often intertwined with other unconscious or unacknowledged fatal flaws. Here are a few signs of leadership shortcomings that are usually linked with micromanagement:
- Focusing on What’s Wrong: Traditional focus on fixing weaknesses undermines motivation for change.
- Poor Monkey Management: Micromanagement results in reduced ownership and accountability for team members. They learn to give the problem (monkey) to their manager. Leaders with many screaming monkeys on their backs become crazy busy, overwhelmed, and frustrated with their team members’ “lack of initiative.”
- Missed connections: Leaders don’t make the connection between their effectiveness and falling employee engagement levels.
- Faulty feedback: Self-assessment of strengths and effectiveness is only half as accurate as feedback from everyone else.
- Negative 360 assessments: Traditional 360 assessments are negative and punishing. This faulty pathway to “leadership development” is discouraging, demotivating, and proven to be 2 to 3 times less effective in changing behavior.
- Lack of Planning: There is no clear personal development roadmap for leveraging a leadership strength from good to great other than “try harder.”
- Poor coaching skills: Coaching is often confused with giving advice and doesn’t build long-term personal, team, or organization capabilities.
- Haphazard coaching conversations: Leaders don’t know how to frame their coaching conversations and jump into coaching discussions with little planning and no framework.
- Spray and pray: leadership and coaching development has a huge failure rate. Very few approaches use research-based methodologies proven to boost effectiveness.
Are You Majoring in the Minors?
Major league (highly effective) leaders have a broader view and make more strategic use of their time. Minor league (less effective) leaders are entangled in minute detail — picking the fly specks out of the pepper. STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine) struggle the most with misusing their time. This often stems from (pun intended!) misunderstanding their leadership role. That’s one reason Zenger Folkman’s research shows STEMM leaders are rated as less effective than their non-STEMM peers.
Leaders with deep technical expertise frequently direct rather than develop others. Their team members call this micromanagement. The STEMM leader often calls this staying on top of details — especially technical ones. Some come across as “if I want any of your ideas, I’ll give them to you.”
Are you a micromanager? How do you KNOW?