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Simple Truths of Leadership – Micromanagement

I am currently halfway through reading the business book, Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a life at Disney, written by Lee Cockerell. Lee is a former Executive VP of Operations at Walt Disney World and in his book he focuses on 10 leadership strategies that he and his leadership team imparted on their managers while running operations at Walt Disney World. It was his belief that these “common sense” strategies are what allowed Walt Disney World to maintain a leading edge in the tourism and hospitality industry as they experienced low turnover rates and high levels of engagement, all the while delivering a superior customer service experience. I will share more nuggets from the book as I get farther along, but there is already a part that has struck a chord with me.

In one of the early chapters, Lee focuses on how harmful micromanagement is. Specifically, he cites examples of how harmful it is to the company’s culture and its ability to retain employees. What he said, specifically about micro management, was a simple truth that rang very true for me. Lee said,

“If you want to lose great people quickly, look over their shoulders all the time and make all their decisions for them. On the other hand, if you want to be a great leader, learn to let go. Hire great people, be perfectly clear about their responsibility, authority and accountability, and let them do their thing. You may earn more money than they do, and you may have a fancier title, but none of that makes you smarter than your direct reports.”

How simple is that? Think about it – hire great people and communicate what their responsibility, authority and accountability are. So why is it that so many companies spend so much money on attracting “top talent” and then they simply let them muddle away in their jobs as an overbearing micromanager controls everything that they do? You may have hired someone with a technically strong skillset, but if there is no authority or accountability given to the person in the role, how long do you think it will be before you will be trying to replace that position again? In speaking with industry colleagues of mine, it is astounding how many of these types of managers still exist within organizations. I don’t know if it is a generational thing or not, or if this need to control information, people and processes is a play for power, but in the long run it has to be absolutely debilitating to an organization.

Control wordTypically, these types of managers are able to exist for a period of time in an organization because they get short term results. Day over day, week over week they are able to prod, squeeze and control their direct reports and exact some measure of results that allows them to look good in their superiors’ eyes. Short term goals and financials are met due to their command and control management style; however, these types of micro managers cause so much destruction underneath them that the damage can often be un-repairable. Turnover, absenteeism, presenteeism, disengagement are rampant because of these micromanagers. Employees spend their day simply surviving until they can find another position. You can bet that the long term result is not the delivery of a quality product or service.

This three legged stool of responsibility, authority and accountability all has to align. You can’t tell someone they are responsible for doing something but not give them the authority to do it. Likewise, you can’t hold someone accountable for something when you haven’t defined what it is they are even responsible for. All three elements must align in this leadership model and that is where micromanagers fail. At the very least, micromanagers do not want to give any authority to their direct reports. All decisions run through them so the model fails there. By the same token, if micromanagers are simply doling out nuggets of daily responsibility (i.e. TASKS) without a clearly defined job scope and authority, than there is no way the manager can be accountable for anything. Ultimately, everything roles up to the micromanager and they position themselves as a single point of failure. At some point in time, the bubble always bursts. If organizations allow these types of managers to exist, what does that say about their organizational culture? What type of people do they possible hope to attract? Do long term prospects for success exist for these types of companies? What type of collateral damage has already occurred because of these micromanagers? I think the answers to these questions are self-evident, what I would like to know is why don’t companies DO something about these types of managers? Surely the long term gain outweighs any type of short term pain? What do you think?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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One Response

  1. […] on Feb 11th I blogged about Simple Truths of Leadership – Micromanagement. In that post I shared some key missives from a book I was reading at that time, “Creating Magic […]

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