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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.

Brutal honesty is not enough.

In my last blog I emphasized the importance and benefits of creating an open, honest, authentic and courageous communication environment in teams and in life. In this blog I want to dig a little deeper.

Living with a courageous and relentless commitment to openness and honesty is a powerful and, in my view, noble virtue. I am not merely saying this because I have personally adopted this commitment in my own life. I am saying it because I have seen the power of openness and honesty triumph over resignation, despair and challenge, as well as nurture opportunity many times. BUT, I have also seen openness, honesty and bluntness deeply hurt and deflate people.

People often think that “having no filter”, “calling it as they see it” and “putting it all out there” are virtues and an asset to their group or relationship. In fact, some cultures – the Dutch for example – pride themselves on their bluntness. When brutal honesty is delivered in a productive manner, it can definitely be a huge asset. But brutal honesty can also be a disaster and an impediment. It can hurt people deeply and leave casualties.

A sales manager at a global telecom company shared with me a story that I have heard in other places before: his boss asked him to represent his country in the weekly regional sales forecast call with the upper level managers. The economic times were challenging and deals were hard to come by, so everyone on the call was somewhat tense and apprehensive, especially his boss’s boss, who was under tremendous pressure from his superiors to perform. When it was time for the sales manager to present he didn’t have good news to share, so not before long he found himself being questioned, grilled and criticized by those who attended the meeting. Needless to say, he left the call feeling devastated and publically attacked, humiliated and demeaned. His boss’s boss had a different depiction of the incident. His take was: “The sales manager came to the call unprepared so I gave him some feedback and tried to help him steer his presentation the right way”.

If openness, honesty and bluntness don’t make a difference and empower people, they are not worth the dignity they stand for and represent.

I have also heard many people equate open, honest and authentic communication to “getting it all off their chest”. In fact, in a recent coaching conversation an executive expressed pride in the fact that he finally mustered the courage to tell his team-mate how he really felt about him, after a long period in which he accumulated pent up frustrations and resentments about his colleague. I empathized with his initial feeling of personal triumph. But when I asked him if the conversation made a difference to address, resolve or change things he wasn’t sure at all. In fact, upon reflection he admitted that the trust and partnership with his colleague didn’t get stronger, and they didn’t come out of that conversation with any tangible productive actions or directions. He left the conversation feeling relief, but his colleague seemed quite upset and disheartened.

Putting it all out there, or getting if all off your chest is the wrong focus. Making a difference should always be the purpose and focus of any communication. It should guide the approach, angle, style and intensity of all our conversations. If making a difference requires being completely open, honest and blunt, then so be it. But, if being completely open, honest and blunt would hurt, insult, demean or deflate the other person, it may be better not to say anything at all.

A friend of mine, who is teaching at a post graduate university, shared with me recently that her new boss adopted the “blunt, no filter” approach, which was less than successful in their environment. Her boss, who came from the finance world, did not take into account the less brutal and more “diplomatic” academic world she was now immersed in. My friend confessed to feeling wary and cautious about bringing issues to the front because of her boss’s unorthodox style.

There are always appropriate, effective and productive ways to communicate, give feedback and express criticism and dissatisfaction – no matter how severe – which elevate and empower people.

What good is it for anyone if people around them are torn down and/or afraid to speak their minds?

Blunt honesty is the right approach both in business and at home.

I love working with leaders who are relentless about driving a culture of open, honest and courageous communication around them. These leaders are about high performance and they have zero interest in, or tolerance for, internal drama or politics. They operate at a high level of personal integrity, authenticity and ownership. And they expect and demand the same from people around them.

They make it difficult – if not impossible – for people to get away with doing the things that undermine and weaken the organization: point fingers, adopt a victim mentality, indulge in destructive politics, and “CYA” (cover-your-ass) behaviors that distract from the goals of the organization.

Even if these behaviors are very subtle, they drain energy and waste everyone’s time. Eventually, people begin to feel that they cannot make a difference, and the organization loses focus and cannot achieve the results it seeks. In today’s environment of growing competition and limited resources, what company can afford this?

Any manager can do this – break these undermining patterns, reverse past damage and create a high performance team dynamic – if they are willing to be a courageous leader, role model this behavior, and call his or her people to account for it too. They need to stand for a new code of rigorous honesty, refusing to settle for less than the truth in an environment where people are used to only voicing what they think their leaders want to hear.

No matter which method they use, leaders must make their unconditional commitment to honesty known, and they must convince their people that they mean it. It’s not enough to declare it. They need to demonstrate through action that they are genuinely open to feedback, criticism and input, including about themselves. As one of my clients once admitted: “It takes 10 rights to fix 1 wrong, and 1 wrong to undermine 10 rights.”

This leadership philosophy of open, honest, authentic and courageous communication can be messy, lonely and painful at times. However, time and again, I have seen it lead to significant transformations inside organizations. In fact, clients have repeatedly shared with me that creating a new level of communication at work has even made them a better person in their personal life, changing the way they relate to their children and their spouses. One CEO even told me, “It saved my marriage.”

I am not a marriage counselor, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But one thing I do know is that when organizations have the courage to face the truth every day, a powerful platform of authentic team ownership, commitment and accountability emerges. The team is then equipped and energized to focus on any challenge or opportunity that lies ahead, no matter how unfamiliar, complex, or difficult it may be. In short, the team becomes unstoppable.