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Micromanagers are less than stellar bosses

Posted: November 4, 2008 10:00 p.m.
Updated: November 5, 2008 4:30 a.m.

Being a supervisor of people in a work environment is a very difficult job.

On one hand there is a responsibility to get things done using those that report to you, quickly and efficiently as possible.

On the other hand, there is a desire for those that report to you to have the ability to grow and assume accountability while accepting the fact that people, inevitably, make mistakes while they develop. Mistakes can be expensive.

Most of us can recall the great bosses we've had and many of us can also recall the ones that were less than stellar.

What makes the difference between the two types of bosses?

Issues of trust
The first difference is the boss cared about his or her subordinates as people.

The second is that the boss struck a balance to give the people they hired enough freedom to do the job they were being paid to do.

The less than stellar bosses I have had were micromanagers.

In Patrick Lencioni's book "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team," he states that the absence of trust is the one thing that can kill any relationship.

Without trust, no team, no matter if it is two people or thousands, will be successful in the long term.

Lack of trust is at the core of micromanaging.

Most people join an organization with the goal of being contributing, productive and loyal.

An employee quickly gets turned off and starts tuning out when their supervisor turns out to be someone who doesn't want them to voice opinions or do a task differently than the boss directs.

This is not a case of repeating "this is the way we've always done it" to every new hire.

Once a person has education, experience and thinking skills, they expect to put those resources and perspective to good use for whoever their employer is.

No self respecting business owner would want to work in a company where they weren't allowed to think and put to use their abilities, so why should anyone think that employees feel any differently?

Two decades ago I gave a presentation to the senior management team of my employer providing a strategy to grow both revenue and volume through existing channels of distribution, while reducing production and shipping costs at the same time.

I didn't expect an answer on the spot; my goal was to get some heads nodding around the room and a decision to "give this idea some serious thought."

Instead I got, "Thanks, Ken. When we want your opinion we'll ask for it." That was the moment I became a disengaged employee and reached the decision to find another place of employment.

A few examples
We're not just talking about small or privately held businesses.

Former President Jimmy Carter personally reviewed the requests for the use of the White House tennis courts during his term of office.

Martha Stewart described herself as a "maniacal micromanager."

Robert Crandall, former head of American Airlines, personally decided to eliminate black olives from salads served on the company's planes to save money.

At the Walt Disney Co., Michael Eisner ordered stronger light bulbs be put into the reading lamps at Disney hotels.

While these examples demonstrate how "hands on" these top executives are, in reality, it simply showcases their failures. These people have failed at hiring capable people, failed at developing and articulating clear expectations for their subordinates, failed to give decision-making power; and most importantly, failed to foster an environment of trust in and for their subordinates to do the right thing for their organizations.

What this kind of executive attitude does is kill the spirit of an employee, perhaps turning them from loyal and contributing to one who simply puts in their time, doing the minimum to avoid being fired.

The frontliners
Front line employees are valuable.

At one of my former employers, there was a standard joke that ran through the company around meeting time.

It turns out that the founder always had great ideas, the CEO had some good ideas and everyone else had an okay idea every blue moon.

Put another way, it was another version of "when we want your opinion, we'll ask for it."

Yet front line employees are in the best position to identify problems and recommend solutions.

onfronted with managers who have all the answers and "don't want to hear it" is it little wonder that companies face the same issues over and over without being resolved.

Those in charge all too often see the suggestions made by employees for improving things or addressing problems as just another way to spend money or resources.

At one company in the fuel distribution business in Northern California, the president realized he was the problem, and one of the first things he did was to set goals for each department, and left it up to those employees to accomplish them.

The accounting department quickly trimmed the average time to collect a payment from customers from 31 days to 23 days.

Pick the right people
Theodore Roosevelt said that "the best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants them to do, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it."

Of course, you have to pick people that are trustworthy and you have to have systems in place to verify what is taking place. But businesses should already have those policies and procedures in place to make sure that happens.

Kenneth W. Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums in Valencia. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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