How I (Sort of) Stopped Being A Micromanager

April 27, 2018 by Maggie PennMaggie Penn



I’m the member of the group project who ends up doing the whole thing, because “it’s just easier.”

I’m the delegator who assigns a task, but chimes in at any moment to adjust steps, offer unsolicited direction, and/or generally hover over the entire process.

I’m the one who starts sentences with phrases like “not to totally take over,” and ends them with a hasty “just a suggestion.”

Hi, I’m Maggie and I am a micromanager.

Here’s the thing: when someone tells you that you’re a micromanager, you don’t get to decide that you aren’t. Your natural first reaction to be defensive is wrong. The best thing to do, for you and your entire team, is to acknowledge your problematic tendencies and start working on being better.

Related: Signs You’re a Micromanager (and What to Do About It)

So, as I begin my journey, the first step on the path to a non-micromanegerial style is to reflect on my past projects. When have I acted this way? How have people reacted? When has it happened to me?

When I evaluate my micromanager past, I find my “it’s just easier to do it myself” excuse crumbles immediately. Actually, it reminds me of a passage from a Wall Street Journal article;

Instead of “I don’t have time”, try saying, “it’s not a priority.

When I say “it’s not a priority” to let my team do their own work, I devalue their competency. I am also clearly not “delegating” if I am still involved with the whole process. And as for the flimsy “just a suggestion” addition—the one I add and try to hide the fact that I’ve never let go of the reigns of a project completely? Nobody believes that one at all.

The first challenge… to get feedback and listen. I’d mastered the art of fake listening in college. (You know, just make mental note of enough of the conversation to repeat the high level ideas, and rephrase them to fit your argument while continuing to only hear your side.) But active listening—listening to acknowledge and respond—takes patience that I have a hard time readily accessing.

Talking to my team and asking for constructive criticism requires a hefty slice of humble pie on my end. I know that the way I would plan and execute a project would not only work, but work well. And hearing the other ways people get to the same end goal in 8 more steps than necessary gets my heart racing in a bad way.

When I actually listen, though, I hear that Billy takes everyone’s ideas into account. Meredith prefers to keep her priorities fluid, using post-it-notes to stay organized. Erin adds extra checklist items in order to feel the thrill of just checking them off. (Seriously, her checklists start with “write checklist.”) These work processes, which seem full of detours to me, are what works for my team. And you know what?

They are what gets the job done.

Related: How to Manage Chaos: Advice on Project Management and Workplace Conundrums

Does that sentence feel incomplete to you? That sentence feels incomplete to me. I need to the job to be done perfectly.

So, the next step: accepting less than perfection.

The phrase “nothing is perfect” makes my throat close up. And yet, through those conversations with my coworkers, I realize now there is no singular idea of “perfect.” We all accomplish work based on personal systems of valuation.

To Billy, “done perfectly” is measured by all of the members of his team feeling heard. Meredith’s “done perfectly” is marked by a clean, post-it free desk. Erin’s “done perfectly’ is when she can check off her item “checklist complete.” (Of course!) And by pigeonholing them into my point of view, I suppress their creative new ways of getting work done

So, don’t be a perfectionist. I know, stop the presses! No one has ever told you that! But, allowing things to be done—not just done perfectly—actually makes you a better delegator and leader.

Related: 11 Questions to Ask to Be an Effective Delegator

Possibly the hardest challenge I’m facing is accepting that I know the “what,” not the “how.” When I manage projects, I detail a lot of the “how”’s for people. I art direct my designers and I copy edit my editors. I remind my team of the strict project timelines but pad those deadlines so I can give my team grief, while knowing we are safe from missing our de...

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