7 Secrets of Agile Vs Micromanagement: A Hands-On Guide to Leadership Style

  • Brace
  • October 12, 2018
  • 15 min

Is agile management really all it’s cracked up to be and is micromanagement the deadly sin of leadership? Effective leadership style means walking a tight rope between giving too little and too much freedom to your team. Read on to learn about micromanagement and agile styles, get insights into leading vs. managing, and find useful tips to help micromanagers break the cycle of excessive control.

What is Micromanagement? The Devil’s in the Details

Do you trust and believe in the abilities of your employees? Or do you still feel compelled to control them? The simple definition of micromanagement is a boss that monitors and meddles in every detail of their team’s work. They are never satisfied and pick out even the tiniest detail. At the root, micromanagers are more focused on reaching a perfect outcome and are less aware of the rocky path their employees walked to get there.

This behavior often causes more harm than good. With so much time invested in controlling their employees, micromanagers can’t dedicate attention to their own tasks. This lowers a manager’s own personal productivity and performance and even has negative effects on the whole team.

The detrimental results of micromanagement are:

  1. Employees feel untrustworthy and observed
  2. Lower motivation and team spirit
  3. Poor employee engagement and less innovation
  4. Higher stress with devastating consequences for employee health (including a 15.4% higher chance of death!)

All together this causes a company to produce less and makes profits suffer. To avoid this, it’s important to learn how micromanagement differs from leading, and what the necessary steps are to get from micro to agile management.

The “You Might Be a Micromanager” Checklist

Few micromanagers would call themselves by that name. However, a manager that asks for endless progress reports, lists, and updates is well on the way to becoming one. Here are some signs that your Dr. Jekyll has a micromanaging Mr. Hyde.

Checklist: Signs of Micromanaging

 

  • ☐ Does your team complain about being controlled?
  • ☐ Is delegating tasks difficult for you?
  • ☐ Are you often frustrated with work because you would’ve approached the task differently?
  • Do your tasks suffer because you focus too much on the work of others?
  • ☐ Does your team not only get tasks from you but detailed, exacting plans to achieve these?
  • ☐ Are you convinced that projects will crash and burn without your continuous oversight and contribution?
  • ☐ Do you always need to know where your employees are and what they’re doing?
  • Do you solve issues in your team by yourself?

The more times you answer “yes,” the greater the chances that you are already in the micromanagement trap. Luckily, there is a way out (and you can find it further down).

The Slippery Slope to Micromanaging

The road to micromanaging is paved with the best intentions. Many micromanagers believe they have the interests of their employees and workplace at heart. But what seems like helpful advice or constructive criticism can sometimes spin out of control. These are 2 tendencies that you should keep an eye on, as they quickly go from helpful to overbearing:

The omniscient leader:

Some have a concept of themselves as an expert, which means they think they know better and must watch the “inferior” work of employees. This leads them to correct too often, and learn too little from their team’s collective knowledge.

The perfectionist:

Some micromanagers start from a perfectionist tendency. This leads them to always view staff work results as subpar. This, of course, justifies more supervision, which in the end hurts productivity and innovation.

Trust is key to a healthy company culture and helps keep your team productive and your leadership effective. It’s important to build and help your team grow, without stepping on toes in the process.

>> Click here to learn more about workplace trust and how to build it. <<

Can Micromanagement Be Good?

There are 2 sides to every coin and micromanagement is the same. Along with all the bad, it also has good aspects that help make leaders more effective. Indeed, some quite famous bosses are talented micromanagers, including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates.

However, like the old saying, everything in moderation. Micromanaging is an art that must be balanced with other leadership skills to be effective. Too much, and your team will sink into low morale and poor productivity.

Now that we’ve talked about the dark sides, what parts of “micromanaging” help make good leaders?

“Good” micromanagers…

    • … know their team and product.
      Continuously being in the trenches with employees lets these managers be more aware of the problems employees face, what talents they have, and what the project needs.
    • … are good communicators.
      Always being involved in problem-solving means that micromanagers have the chance to develop effective ways to communicate with different people. After all, they need people to understand their tasks to get a perfect outcome.
    • … are masters of pre-empting problems.
      Through being active in the work-flow, micromanagers can spot the signs of potential problems and work to fix them in advance.
    • … are the ultimate team and product safety net.
      An encyclopedic awareness and hyper-focused attention to detail mean a micromanager is always there to find a major mistake before it dooms the project. If something slipped through all the cracks, a micromanager can be the impenetrable firewall.

Leadership vs. (Micro) Management

The fundamental difference between leading and managing is your approach to control and power. When a boss manages, they take the power (and decisions) out of employees hands and instead “force” their plans into action. This hurts the relationship between worker and leadership by making it one-sided. It also limits the potential of employees, who often have talents and ideas that will never be discovered if not given the chance to shine.

Leadership, on the other hand, is about inspiring others to achieve the result you desire. This can include providing your input as a suggestion rather than a command (chances are employees will do what you suggest anyway). It can also mean giving your team a goal and letting them hash out the means to achieve it. You can even provide employee development and workshops that steer employee work methods in the direction you want them to go. By helping your team see and create your vision on their own, it lets everyone contribute and stay engaged and motivated while building better company culture and results.

Leading Managing
Inspire employees to decisions

 

Command employees to results

 

Guide people toward good steps

 

Control the steps employees make

 

Developing a team through learning and teaching

 

Counting how much a team has progressed

 

Use their team to influence the workplace Use subordinates to directly implement plans

What is Agile Management?

New thinking, novel ideas, and boldly going where no one has gone before, these qualities help secure a company’s future in today’s insecure and ever-changing markets. The key to achieving these lays in agility and adaptability; the ability to roll with any new situation and find creative strategies to evolve. It takes a specific leadership style to unlock these capabilities — agile management.

At its core, agile means reimagining the roles of employee and manager, creating a culture of engagement, and granting everyone more space and flexibility to own projects, develop, and contribute.

Agile and Scrum: A New Take on (Micro) Management?

Agile is management at eye level. The manager takes on a role as a mentor, as well as doer. They lead a team of decision-makers and are responsible for their development and advancement, while at the same time being quick on their feet and making solid decisions. This makes it not just a process, but a whole new form of company culture and way of thinking about leadership.

Scrum and Kanban are often the tools of choice for agile managers. Both of these emphasize focusing on one task, estimating the specific steps and time needed, and owning your individual projects, which harnesses employee talents and initiative. However, when misapplied, this very focus on individual tasks and processes can invite micromanagement. To be truly agile you have to build an environment where employees can contribute and thrive, not just repackage control mechanisms.

Steps for an effective transition to agile culture

  • Don’t dictate time estimates. Instead, let your team determine what they need for quality work.
  • Let employees shape the steps to finish a task while you provide input
  • Never over-manage the scrum meeting. It should be collaborative.
  • Review tasks and results to find improvements, not personally criticize or pick on details.
  • Use stand-ups to align your team, not to monitor their productivity.
  • Trust your team’s abilities.
  • Always give and take regular feedback on projects and the workplace.

It’s a long way from old stale organizational structures to a model that is flexible and ready to react. The best chance of success means building a company culture that is big on trust, where every team member can achieve their goals without rigid rules and direct commands.

If Everyone’s a Boss, What’s a Manager to Do?

Quite a bit actually. Without a clear framework and rules, agile teams can’t function. Deciding who is responsible for which step and which project is the task of the manager. In this regard, agile management is significantly different from the classical hierarchical method: Rather than pure control, agile managers are like a conductor, setting the right harmonies in motion, creating the perfect positive framework, and letting talented team members perform. In the workplace, this means giving regular feedback and one on ones, getting to know individual employees, and supporting them in their growth. Google aptly describes how well-done agile management looks in their Project Oxygen:

A good (agile) boss…

 

  • … Is a great coach
  • … Gives their team the freedom to make decisions
  • … Doesn’t resort to micromanagement
  • … Is productive and results-oriented
  • … Is a successful communicator
  • … Supports their team with career development
  • … Has clear goals and strategies for their team
  • … Knows their stuff regarding the field of work

Owning Tasks: The Workplace Without Micromanaging

The more overbearing the instructions, the less motivated the team. Numerous studies show that more freedom in accomplishing a task leads to better satisfaction and better results. The Harvard Business Review found that helpfulness and contributions rose when employees owned their tasks, as opposed to being told what to do. And more importantly, this connection to a project helps generate engagement, which has the positive effect of boosting productivity and profits by close to 21%. A micromanager, through the need for exacting control, hinders the ability of employees to own their projects and wrap them up efficiently, thus costing themselves time and the company ideas, motivation, and production.

7 Leadership Secrets & Lessons to Counter Micromanagement

The first step to recovery is recognition. If you’ve identified shortcomings in your management approach, here’s how you can start changing your leadership style.

  1. Learn to let go. Give your team the freedom to take responsibility for their tasks, and remember, it’s the results that count, not the tiniest steps along the way.
  2. Trust your team. They have the skills to finish the job, they just need your support. Status checks once a week are of course important to keep an overview of the workplace, but make sure they aren’t too often or too overbearing.
  3. Delegate tasks. Give your team tasks and let them sort out the details. Naturally, mistakes can happen, but don’t let fear control your decisions. A mistake or two is only human and won’t ruin the chances for a successful project.
  4. Become a better coach. Every manager worries that results won’t be good enough, but the way to prevent this is often development rather than control. Find out your employees’ skills, give them tasks they’re up to, and help them improve.
  5. Build in bottom-up feedback. Let your employees tell you about your leadership by giving them the chance to provide feedback. You can learn what they need and find habits you may have that are hurting your team rather than helping.
  6. Conduct one on one meetings. Weekly (or bi-weekly) one on one meetings are a great way to keep in touch with your team and projects without being overbearing.
    >> Learn about the perfect one-on-one meeting here. <<
  7. Give result-oriented feedback. Feedback is essential for your team and tasks. If results aren’t what you want, don’t personally attack employees for their mistakes. Instead, use constructive criticism and a focus on actionable changes to help employees grow.

Key Takeaways

  • Agile means reimagining company culture and the roles of employee and manager, not just changing work processes.
  • Micromanaging means being inextricably involved in and critical of the work and actions of employees, leading to poor motivation, retention, and results.
  • To be a leader, managers need to learn how to inspire their team toward a goal, not dictate actions.
  • Trust and feedback are essential tools for leaders to create a productive, motivating, and engaging workplace and company culture.

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