Are You a Micromanager? How to Be Mindful of Being Counterproductive

Breathing down your staff's necks might not be the best way to leverage their talents. Identify your task-hoarding habits and ways you can let go to help projects go smoother.

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The French playwright, Charles-Guillaume Étienne, once wrote: On n’est jamais servi si bien que par soi-même.” Roughly translated as, “one is never served so well as by oneself.” This phrase is popular with micromanagers everywhere, but it’s often incorrectly translated as, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”

Etienne’s original statement was the more precise one. When you take over a project and begin to micromanage, you are only serving yourself. Studies have shown that micromanaging is counterproductive. It decimates team morale by breeding a culture of distrust. It also leads to team members creating roadblocks for fear of making a wrong move.

Studies have shown that micromanaging is counterproductive. It decimates team morale by breeding a culture of distrust.

Sometimes, though, we aren’t aware that we’ve gone down the prickly path of micromanagement. Anxiety, stress, fatigue, and other emotions can cloud our better leadership judgement. It helps to take a step back and look for the telltale signs that you have become a micromanager.

Signs that you’re a micromanager

There are many ways that you can micromanage someone without realizing it, but here are some of the more obvious signs that you need to take a few steps back:

  • You ask for materials repeatedly prior to a project’s deadline
  • You take team members off of certain tasks for fear they won’t complete them
  • You jump on calls that you don’t need to be on
  • You send email replies before your team can reply

If you recognize any of these work moves, you might be a micromanager. But help is just a few short breaths away. Mindfulness can help you sort and sift through habits that might be getting in the way of your team’s productivity.

Explore (and break free from) your micromanaging habit in 5 steps

  1. First, be aware that you are doing it. Whenever you decide to write an email, grab a phone call, or not delegate a project, ask yourself why you are doing these things and write it down. What are you feeling physically? Are you afraid? Why?
  2. Then, think twice. Do you want to send that email, grab that call, or hoard a project. Can someone else do it? Isn’t this the reason why you are the team leader — so you can bring out the best of people around you rather than frustrate them and thwart their work?
  3. Next, try letting go. Let your team members handle projects after you have delegated. Set deadlines so you can keep track, but don’t feel the need to jump into every detail. The nerves that come with letting someone else handle important projects are real — and worth noting — but you’d be surprised at what your capable team can do. In a recent case study that took place in a long-term care facility, researchers found that micromanaged teams often felt demoralized, less motivated, and less productive. On the flip side, teams that were guided (with clear goals) but not micromanaged felt a stronger sense of accomplishment and were more productive.
  4. Explore anxiety. When you start to feel anxious, let those thoughts come and go — just as you would with meditation — but don’t act on them. Take note, allow yourself to feel where the anxiety is located in your body without getting pulled in by associated anxious thoughts or feelings. You can do that by noting when those thoughts are present (e.g. noting when the tension in your shoulders appears after frustrations felt towards a colleague). Refresh your intentions toward your own work for the day.
  5. Reflect on this experiment. Check in with yourself after one month of being more mindful of micromanaging. Has your team’s morale gone up? Are employee engagement rates rising? Are things getting done at a smoother and swifter rate?

The upside to letting go (a little bit): Empowering your team

Micromanaging brings with it a slew of negativity. A lack of team morale, the inability to learn new things or think creatively, lack of trust and team respect, crushing problem solving skills, and a high employee turnover rate are some of the main reasons why micromanaging is a bad leadership strategy.

Micromanaging brings with it a slew of negativity.

On the flip side, learning to let go results in boosted team morale, increased creative flow, stronger trust and camaraderie between team members, a less stressful or toxic environment, and a broader sense of purpose. While letting go of projects and trusting your team might be anxiety-provoking, being mindful of your management style can prevent good team members from turning and running in the opposite direction.