In leadership, we often talk about the VUCA world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) and the need to adapt to shifts and trends if our organisations are to survive.
One of the key elements many leaders will agree on is the empowerment of their employees – to delegate and give people the freedom to implement ideas and initiatives that can help a business to maintain its competitive edge.
As Steve Jobs once said:
It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do, we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.
A leader’s task is to hire smart people and let them tell the leaders what to do – otherwise, why hire top talent in the first place? And yet, leaders will continue to stifle the kind of creativity that would actually make their own lives easier as the organisation flourishes.
You might ask, “Why do some leaders lead in a way that frustrates their employees and yet remain unaware of their impact?”
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The biggest problem is the temptation to micromanage which, for some in leadership roles, can be difficult to resist. That said, micromanaging can cause so many problems when it comes to employee creativity, innovation, and engagement. These include:
1. Making employees feel on edge
Micromanagement is about closely monitoring peoples’ work and looking for ways to correct behaviours. Employees who feel like they’re being watched are likely to be compliant, but they’ll not feel inspired or empowered to go beyond minimum expectations.
For leaders, spending too much time micromanaging also means that they neglect other constructive duties that come with being in a leadership role.
2. Reducing autonomy
Employees who are most engaged are those who have at least some degree of decision-making power within their role. People who have some say over how they perform their role will feel trusted and respected, and therefore motivated to do their job well. By reducing their sense of autonomy, employees become disengaged and demoralised.
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3. Stifling growth
The only way for employees – and organisations – to grow and develop is to try new ideas, step out of their comfort zone, and take the lead on initiatives. Leaders who micromanage prevent the necessity of growth by not allowing any calculated risks to be taken and insisting that things be done only in the manner they want the department or organisation to run. As a result, progress is, at best, slow to develop, and that’s if it doesn’t stagnate altogether.
So, what can be done to help leaders and employees work and grow together in a way that allows the people and the organisation to thrive?
Below, I outline a few of my suggestions. Remember, as with anything leadership-related, it’s not enough to talk a good game since change only comes with the willingness to work towards it. Otherwise, the same old problems (like the ones above) will continue to resurface.
1. Leaders need to be (properly) self-aware
Self-awareness is something that’s frequently mentioned in leadership and for good reason. However, to really cultivate deep self-awareness, it’s not enough to reflect on what we’re good at and what needs improving.
For better results, leaders need to proactively ask themselves:
“What do I think I’m doing right… and how might I be wrong?”
“Do I really seek honest feedback from others, or does my ego get in the way?”
“What do I still have to learn about myself?”
“How can I better serve my employees and team members?”
2. Practise putting faith in your people
It can be hard for some leaders to delegate and give their employees freedom. This kind of leadership is a hangover from ‘The Great Man’ theory, where ‘boss-knows-best’ and is the authority above all else. This style of leadership has long given way to more constructive approaches such as transformational and servant leadership.
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Trusting your people to come up with good ideas – and to implement them – will, more often than not, benefit the organisation and help to improve policies, procedures, and customer experience. If an idea doesn’t work out, nothing is lost, and yet, everything is gained as it increases the employees’ faith and commitment to the organisation and its leadership.
3. Take a step back
Micromanaging is essentially rooted in fear. Leaders are afraid that if they take their eyes off the ball, everything will fall apart without their close attention. In reality, leaders who are secure enough to take a step back and delegate more to their people will find that performance levels and productivity increase. This is because employees who feel a sense of ownership over what they’re doing tend to invest more of themselves into their role. On the other hand, employees who are micromanaged will be motivated to do just enough, until of course a better opportunity comes their way.
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