The more controlling you are the less control you have

Most managers who micromanage their employees suppress their spirit and performance.

Employee’s performance is directly tied to their sense of ownership, commitment, and accountability for the success of their organization. Their passion, ownership, commitment and accountability are reduced when they feel distrusted, disrespected and under-valued from a leadership and/or professional standpoint by their manager.

By micromanaging their people, managers generate an environment of compliance and fear. And that typically cause people to play it safe and “cover their behinds” instead of stepping up and going beyond the call of duty to take ownership, risk and initiative.

Managers who are consumed with micromanaging their employees are focused on the wrong things. Instead, they should be providing leadership and confidence to their team by identifying their next strategic objectives, inspiring their employees to take them on, and ensuring that the organization has the wherewithal to execute them.

In fact, micromanagement puts in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy: The manager relates to his people as uncommitted, incompetent and/or unreliable. The people in turn play it safe and don’t take ownership, risk and accountability. This confirms the manager’s view and he continues to micromanage.

The issue lies with the manager. Most managers who micromanage and control their people do it beause of their own insecurity and fear of failure, and not because their employees are ,in fact, incompetent or uncommitted.

In order to strike the appropriate balance between being on top of things and not hovering over their people, managers must put the following building blocks in place and manage them effectively:

  •  They must build a team that they trust in terms of commitment and competency. And they must establish a dynamic of authentic, honest and courageous communication within their team.
  • They must align their team members around their vision of the future – a clear vision and/or set of objectives that all team members clearly understand and are on the same page about; a future that everyone feels genuinely passionate about, committed to and accountable for, as their own.
  • They must orient their team members around results and deliverables rather than tasks and activities in order to build an environment of real accountability (accountability can only exist when there are clear measurable results to manage).
  • They must ensure that roles, accountabilities, expectations and processes are completely clear to all team members, in order to eliminate the chance of ambiguity, excuses or mischief in this regard.
  • Lastly, they must put in place a simple and effective mechanism and process for tracking all key commitments, deliverables and promised results on a monthly and quarterly basis in order to eliminate confusion or lack of accountability. They should structure their executive team as the cabinet accountable for the achievement of the collective future (not just ‘each to their own’), hence dedicate monthly or quarterly team meetings to track and review progress.

If someone is not performing up to an agreed-upon standard or expectation, managers must be willing to have a straight and honest conversation that either elevates the individual to a higher level of performance, or makes it clear that someone else needs to be brought in to do the job.

If the manager has built a strong team dynamic of honest communication and authentic ownership toward his future there will be no need for micromanagement because his team members will be operating in a very powerful and responsible way toward making results happen.

In the absence of real ownership and honesty no amount of micromanagement will be effective anyway.

If you want your strategy to work, don’t underestimate the critical role of middle managers

The following scenario unfolds every day in organizations of every size across the globe:  The CEO and his top management team unveil a new strategic plan or a new “change initiative” to dozens of executives and managers the next level down.  Senior management implores these mid-level managers to “get on board” the initiative because it is critical to the success – and sometimes even the survival – of the organization.  After the top executive presents the plan (often in an “all hands” meeting), the mid-level managers ramble out into the hall, grumbling about what they just heard.  The “un” words fill the air: “unrealistic,” “unfathomable,” “unnecessary,” “unclear,” “unwise.”

For years, mid-level managers have been expected to “get on board” their companies’ strategic initiatives without tough questions and, most of all, without dissent.  Today, however, a grudging attitude of “we’ll get in line even if we don’t like it” is actually worse than outright insubordination – especially for the senior executives.  If the senior leaders of the company become aware that some managers do not support their directives, they at least can take instant and corrective action.  Not so when middle managers nod “yes” and think and behave “no.”  It could take the CEO and his senior leaders months if not more time to realize the execution of his strategy is going awry.  And by that time, it may be too late.  A new product may be dead on arrival.  A major cost-cutting program may eke out incremental savings and fail to resolve a huge pricing disadvantage. A quality improvement initiative may be too little, too late to stave off mass customer defections.

Let’s be honest – every strategy is an educated guess about what a company must do to improve performance, and some are more educated than others.  Thus, given that no strategy is perfect, companies need middle managers and employees who will point out and correct the flaws quickly.  This is crucial today given that every company is part of the global economy with fierce competition.

The middle managers are so important because they sit at the critical junction between vision/strategy and execution. In addition, while senior executives tend to move around more frequently for their careers, many middle managers tend to stay in their roles for longer periods of time. This makes them more seasoned and knowledgeable about what it takes to make things happen in the organization.  If they get authentically on board with the company’s strategy there is a high chance of success because the middle managers will go out of their way to coordinate and drive effective actions, even in a highly political environment. But, if they are not genuinely on board, the middle managers will say all the right things but go through the motions, pay lip service and as a result momentum will be stagnated. I have seen this happen many times.

But even with the most ingenious and clearest of business strategies,  middle managers will never fully commit to the plan and go to all ends to make it work if they don’t believe or trust their leaders sincerity, courage, competence and concern.

  • Sincerity and honesty about what’s really going on in the company (including the reason why the firm needs a new direction) as well as what will happen next (good news and bad news).
  • Courage and resolve to hear the truth and make the hard decisions required for the strategy to work.
  • Competence in managing the strategy and the changes associated with it over time, including all the challenges and opportunities that could appear along the way.
  • Concern for those who will be affected by it – for the human consequences of the plan, as  all new strategies wreak major workplace changes.


As former General Electric CEO Jack Welch put it, “To have a fighting chance, companies need to get every employee, with every idea in their heads and every morsel of energy in their bodies, into the game.”  This means middle managers must be totally committed to their company’s strategy in order for it to work.


Don’t accept cynicism and resignation

Early June 2014 I published an article in the online Careers in Government publication called It takes courage to say NO to cynicism and resignation. I also posted a blog about the same topic on April 10th, 2014.

As you can tell, I feel passionate about this topic. I believe we were all born with the innate ability and right to express ourselves, live a life of meaning, and be fulfilled and happy. Unfortunately, so many people don’t live and behave this way, especially in organizations.

I was facilitating a session with 150 managers of a highly unionized division of a well-known technology company.  During the introductions a veteran supervisor stood up and introduced himself in the following way: “My name is Bill. I don’t remember how long I have been here, but I have 64 months to go” and he sat down. The room went silence but you could hear the cynical giggles spreading throughout the crowd.

With more than 30 years under his belt, Bill was clearly uninspired, cynical and resigned. I could imagine him coming to work every day opening his locker and marking off another day on his hanging calendar. I would describe his mindset as equivalent to a “prisoner doing time.”

I wish I could tell you that Bill is the exception. So many people seem to feel powerless and unable to make a difference in their job on a daily basis. I often ask people at all levels of organizations this question: “Do you feel you can make a significant difference in shaping the things that are most important to you; things like the priorities of the organization, the collaboration of teams around you and the overall morale and excitement of their teams?”

People have great insights and ideas about how to improve things and how to make their work environment more productive and enjoyable. But they often don’t feel they can apply these ideas and make the difference they truly want to make.

When people stop believing that things can change they tend to get discouraged and disengaged. They stop pursuing certain opportunities and challenges. A very small minority of people physically resigns and leaves. But, most don’t. A few people make feeble attempts to change things only to find themselves thwarted, hence falling back into line.

But, most people simply continue about their jobs with minimal enthusiasm, ownership and drive. They are physically there but often mentally checked out. They come to meetings but don’t speak up, volunteer their ideas or take risks. They comply and survive but don’t lead, express themselves or thrive.

I am not trying to portray an overly harsh and gloomy picture of reality. This is the norm in most organizations, even the most successful ones. I see it everywhere.

The good news is that we NEVER have to settle for this predicament. We can ALWAYS make the choice to take a bold stand and not accept or adopt the cynicism, resignation and negativism that surround us. We can fully express ourselves and communicate authentically and effectively at all times.

It does take courage to say NO to negativism, cynicism and resignation – at work and in life – to ALWAYS stand for optimism, possibilities and your ability to make a difference. But, that space is fully available for us.

Here are a few tips on how to stay positive and empowered:

  • Be courageous. If you want to be a leader and say NO to cynicism you need to be courageous and take a stand. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather embracing your fears and acting in a way that is true to your values and commitments, even if people around you are in a different space.
  • Don’t engage in negative conversations. Don’t entertain, engage in or initiate negative or cynical conversations around you. These are toxic and cancerous to the organization but more important – to you personally. If you want to make a difference address issues and complaints directly with the appropriate people. If you don’t intend to address certain issues don’t contribute to the background noise about them.
  • Associate only with positive, like-minded people. When you associate with cynical people it will pull you down. If you associate with like-minded positive people it will pull you up and keep you in good shape to contribute and make a difference.
  • Live up to your stand. Look for little things to do every day that express your commitment and forward your stand to make a difference. There is a great quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that I love: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Follow her advice and you’ll become better and better at it.

Managing your professional and personal life balance may be easier than you think

Like many of you, I have a very full and busy schedule interwoven with business and personal commitments, projects and activities.

I am passionate about having it all so I go out of my way to not miss out on personal commitments like exercising, spending time with my wife and kids, etc. because of career and professional priorities.

Managing everything, though is often like riding an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes it feels like I have too much to do and I am not managing to get it all done. And, at other times, even when the load is the same, I feel that I am completely on top of it and I have time to spare.

But, no matter how I feel during the roller coaster ride I seem to always manage to get everything done in a timely and workable manner. Some things seem to go smoothly from the start and other things tend to squeak, push and kick until the last minute. However, I don’t recall the last time I failed to achieve a significant project, deadline or milestone.

When it comes to managing our professional and personal life balance there seem to be two worlds occurring at the same time. One is the actual events and activities that happen. The other is all the noise and self-commentary that accompanies the activities, in our head.

For example, I have a routine practice of exercising ninety minutes every third day. I try and keep that routine religiously in order to stay in shape. There seem to always be good reasons why I don’t have time to do it. But, I still do it. The little voice in my head often goes off with things like: “Today is not a good day for exercising” “You are going to miss your deadline if you exercise today” and “You don’t feel like it anyway.”

When I buy into what my little voice is saying I usually get stressed. Sometimes I even decide to not exercise. When that happens I almost always feel defeated and disappointed.

I have learned from personal experience that there is no real direct correlation between how much I get done and the noise in my head about it. In other words, no matter how insistent and convincing my little voice is about how if I exercise I will miss my other commitments, in reality, most of the time that is not the case at all!

As a result, I have learned to not give credence to my noise. I just let the noise go on and I go ahead and do what I promised myself and planned to do anyway. I trust that if I stay true to my commitments in all areas I will always manage to get them all done. And, 95% of the time that is exactly what happens. In the other 5%, I typically end up renegotiating the deadline or in rare instances working longer hours to pull it off on time. But, the long hours routine rarely happens.

People often ask me for advice on how to manage their professional and personal life balance.

My answer is:

    1. Be clear about your long-term and short-term professional and personal commitments and objectives. The more you occupy your consciousness with, and focus your intention on your dreams, commitments and goals the less space there will be for noise.
    2. Schedule the activities associated with fulfilling them in your calendar – for example: for professional: writing the proposal, reading the report, returning calls. For personal: exercising 3 times a week, date night with your spouse, quality time with kids, etc.
    3. Keep your schedule, no matter what. Don’t cancel your exercise or time with your kids because of work load or because your little voice says you will fail.
    4. Say no to others who want to double book things with you while you have planned personal activities. Be kind and responsible about it and offer alternative times.Don’t buy into the noise. Just be aware of it and acknowledge it but don’t buy into it.
    5. Gather evidence that no matter how loud and convincing your voice is, it’s just noise and it has no bearing on your ability to get everything done.
    6. Obviously, things are never perfect. At times you will need to be flexible and innovative, including perhaps rescheduling things or working longer hours to get everything done. But if you stand for having it all, you manage your schedule with the relentless commitment to never sacrifice or sell out on anything important.
    7. And, if you make sure that all your professional and personal commitments are accounted for, you will find that the noise has less and less control over your actions. As a result your ability to have a well-balanced professional and personal life will keep growing.

    Try it and see how it works…