The Leaders Conundrum: Guidance vs. Micromanaging

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I’ve heard a common question from CEOs, Executive Leaders and managers alike – ‘my team wants more guidance from me but also say they feel micromanaged.’

That dichotomy, or perceived dichotomy, can be frustrating as a manager at any level. How do you guide and lead your team when they are asking for more without making them feel micromanaged?

The answer, from my perspective, lies within the definition or interpretation of these words.

Leadership and guidance fall on one side of this dichotomy. Guidance being defined as: advice or information aimed at resolving a problem or difficulty, especially as given by someone in authority. To be a good leader then, you must share advice that can help your team members get to better outcome faster.

Often when people ask for more leadership what they’re really saying is: Show me on a map the route and the destination. Beyond helping to solve a problem, help me to see where you want to go and what you believe is the best way to get there.

Now let’s turn to micromanaging. Again, looking at the definition. Micromanaging is defined as a verb: to control every part, however small, of an enterprise or activity.

Let’s go back to our map analogy. Your team wants to know the destination, they even want your guidance on how best to get there, but do they need you to tell them which vehicle to choose, how many stops to take along the way or even discourage them from finding a shorter route?

And yes – sometimes when you are being asked for guidance it’s easy to misinterpret that request as a need to illuminate every detail, or even take over and do the task so that you can show exactly how it’s done. Sometimes it can feel just simpler to dig into the weeds and do it yourself -- but is that your job as a leader? Especially if the goal is to build capable, motivated and highly effective teams?

To understand your role as a leader is to accept that you are the one setting the vision and the tone of the organization or project. To motivate employees and empower them to bring their very best to the game – all while allowing them to help decide how to achieve the vision. And when they do, take a step back to answer one simple question for yourself: ‘Did they get to where we needed to go?’ Just because the journey didn’t look exactly like you thought it would doesn’t mean the outcome won’t be the same (or in some cases even better) than you expected.

It’s an important topic to think about and build some self-awareness around. In my work, I see lack of empowerment as one of the key themes in disenfranchised and unmotivated employees. Often this perceived dichotomy of guidance vs. micromanagement is to blame.

I’m curious to hear from some of you. When you yourself have felt empowered was it because you got to help decide how to achieve the vision that was laid out? Conversely, as a leader do you set out the outcome clearly and allow others to help guide you there?  What are some of the results?

I’m willing to bet an empowered team with a crystal-clear vision of the goal and why it’s important is a happier and much more productive one.

Mory FontanezComment