Starting with the premise that we have the best people in our team*, and that as leaders we trust them to be the best that they can be and perform, we should be able to see the other side of the coin as well: do we as managers and leaders have earned our employee’s trust? Trust in a working environment means the same thing as trust in any relationship between two partners or friends. It gives the safe playground to embrace diversity, to think outside the box, be oneself, bring new ideas to the table, and be comfortable to try them out and fail without being afraid of bearing all sorts of consequences.

In this article, we will be discussing the differences in trust and performance between teams with “leaders” that micromanage them, and leaders that take the empowerment approach.

*The quote below is related to the premise that we do hire the best people in our teams


The ways & damaging effects of micromanaging a team

In a survey published in Harry E. Chambers’ book My Way or the Highway: The Micromanagement Survival Guide, 79% of respondents revealed that they are or did experience micromanagement in the workplace, while 69% had considered changing jobs. However, the most frightening statistic of all is that a staggering 85% of respondents said that their morale was impacted negatively by being micromanaged.

The reality is that in some industries, some companies still opt for having their teams and people micromanaged; this way, the managers can always be on top of everything, and in control of all the things happening that they’re responsible for at work. In the short run, this might produce immediate results, but let’s dive deeper into how this approach can damage the business on a medium to long term.

Low creativity

Felling that their ideas are not worth it, or that they’re not welcomed as long as they don’t coincide with the manager’s views will eventually force employees to stop giving their inputs and bring fresh perspectives to the table. Coming up with an idea is a bold move that involves a certain degree of risk, which stops if it’s not encouraged, and the employee is not feeling safe about doing this. Why put in the effort if it will anyways be in vain? The business itself is missing the most significant opportunity in terms of innovation and growth by continuing to follow the same ways of working in today’s continually progressing world.

Lower motivation and morale

It’s human nature to want autonomy as you grow into a role, and be able to work with less and less supervision. Being monitored continuously on every move challenged why you have done things in a certain way rather than the “usual” way, or merely being always told what to do and how to do things are factors that will kill all the job motivation one might have. All this will lead to low morale as well, and, therefore, team members will end up just dragging to work and doing only what they’re told. Eventually, they’ll leave that boss for a place where they’ll feel valued and motivated to bring their best.

High employee turnover

Employees that are reduced to simple executants despite their capability to do so much more will eventually leave for a healthier work environment. While micromanaging can work well for interns and junior personnel, people need more trust and autonomy as they grow into their role and expertise. If a company fails to adjust their leadership principles, and trust the people they are bringing in to help them; they will face low retention rates and high employee turnover.

Plummeting levels of productivity

Team members will double-check or triple-check everything before sending it in, and they’ll wait for all the details to be feedbacked by their manager. The manager on his side will spend a lot of time checking everything from process to actual output, while all this will increase the response time and how long it takes to get anything done, drastically affecting the productivity levels of all employees and the company itself. There should be certain levels of autonomy given to team members, and feedback should come during the critical parts of the project while trusting the employees to do the things they’re supposed to do.

Disappearance of trust

You can see by now that micromanaging your team members mean you don’t trust them, so why should they trust you? Of course, a certain amount of challenge is healthy, but from here to micromanagement is a vast discrepancy. From the leader that you’re supposed to be, you will become an oppressor everyone will fear and hate, and they’ll work behind your back to get away with whatever you ask for and nothing more.

Micromanaging brings stress to the work environment, encourages all the wrong behaviors, and it’s a waste of everybody’s time. It’s against human nature, and it’s easy to see why this is not healthy for either the employee, the manager, or the company itself. On the other hand, hiring the right people and empowering them to bring their best and contribute to the growth of the company will have everyone benefiting.

According to “12: The Elements of Great Managing” (Gallup Press, 2006), employee disengagement costs a typical 10,000-person company up to $600,000 a year in salary for days where no work was performed, and that “disengagement-driven turnover costs most sizable businesses millions every year.” By contrast, engaged employees are more likely to show up, stay with a firm longer, and be more productive while they’re on the job. The book finds that engaged teams average 18% higher productivity and 12% greater profitability than the least engaged teams.

Being an empowering leader, contributing to an engaged workplace

Employees that feel empowered in the workplace bring their best ideas, best work, and best work ethics with them. They genuinely want to contribute and walk the extra mile for the company they work for, and believe it to be able to grow as a result of their work. Engaged employees become loyal, and that is one of the most significant assets and competitive advantages any company can gain on these volatile times we live in today. Let’s explore some of the critical things that make a manager an empowering leader, who is trusted by his team and can sustainably achieve results.

Roll up your sleeves and join in the trenches, especially during times when there is a big project rolling in, the team is sinking or progressing slow. You will be seen as part of the team rather than the far up the ladder leader who is only in charge of delegating and expecting results. To be human, approachable and willing to do what you ask your team to do will get you closer not just to the realities of the work involved but also to the people you’re in charge of, being able to be more productive and achieve more on the long run.

This way, you will also have a chance to get to know your employees on a personal level as well. While some managers believe getting to know your employees family or own lives might hinder some objective decisions, on the long run, this can help you understand better where are they coming from, how they fight their struggles and what else from their personal life they could potentially bring in to benefit the business. Take time to get to know your team members over lunch or coffee, or even at team outings.

Further on, if you are confident, you have the right people in the right places in your team, trust their skills, knowledge, and decision-making. If you don’t have the right people in the group, you either made a mistake in recruiting them or, if inherited, you need to work on making the right changes and either invest in growing the people you see having the potential to grow or bring in the right ones. Once you have the skilled and competent people in your team, let them do their job, and play your leadership role. Step in only when needed and avoid the micromanaging behavior we discussed in the first part of this article.

The leader role you need to play is one of a servant leader. Instead of a hierarchic leader put there to delegate and check on tasks, be one that is paying attention and serves the team to make sure it has what it needs to perform. Be there for support, as a mentor or facilitator. Make a habit of asking your team what they need from you, or from the company or other stakeholders, to perform better, and how you could help and facilitate their success.

A servant leader includes your role in fostering and facilitating growth and career opportunities for your team members. Listen to what they tell you they would need, but also don’t be shy in recommending training or coaching sessions wherever you notice things could be improved. Give them advancement opportunities whenever you see a good fit between their capabilities and the company’s needs. It will not only boost the employee’s’ motivation but will also benefit you as a leader and the company in the long run.

And this leads us to one last point when it comes to empowering your team to work and grow. That is to be humble enough to accept ideas that challenge your own, or criticism whenever you make a mistake – you’re human too, in the end. It can be the case, and quite often that members in your team better know some areas, and their expertise and ideas are better than yours. Ask for their opinion and encourage the behavior of people speaking their minds, regardless of the plans will be implemented or not in the end. But to achieve the right ideas and take them into account when making final decisions, in this way, you will encourage the desired behavior. Admit when you are wrong as well, even if this is hard. On the long run, it will only help you consolidate respect and trust in your team rather than being perceived as unapproachable and stuck. It won’t make you appear weak, and it won’t undermine your position within the organization and company.

Micromanaging versus becoming a servant leader is like water and oil, they will never mix, both as an approach but also as a result, for everyone involved: leader, team members, hiring company and all other stakeholders required. While micromanaging encourages only destructive behaviors, being a true leader fosters a culture of empowerment and growth. And this is the case for both formal as well as informal leaders. Good luck!

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