Growth Insights for CEOs

CEOs: Beware of Micromanaging

Posted by The Chief Outsider

A marketing consultant I know posted on his Facebook page today: “Always wonder why some CEOs would rather diddle with things on a web page or other marketing minutia than deal with really important business strategy issues or building a company team.” While I know this was more an expression of his current frustration with a client than a real question, it got me thinking—and I suspect the answer may be relatively simple: Entrepreneurs stay in startup mode too long.

Entrepreneurs are by nature doers, and while in startup mode they are directly involved in just about every aspect of their companies. That is how their companies are born, succeed and grow. As a company grows, however, its leadership needs change, and some entrepreneurs have trouble shifting gears. They find it difficult to shift from doing to leading, and so they become stuck micromanaging. The problem is that micromanaging by a CEO can mean the downfall of a young company.

Micromanaging Kills

When CEOs micromanage their staff and subordinates, productivity and creativity suffer.

  • Having control makes people happy; but employees who are micromanaged rarely feel they have control over their work. Unhappy employees are less productive and less creative than are happy employees.
  • Micromanagement tells employees that you do not trust their work and judgment. When they realize that you are not listening to them, they shut down, stop making suggestions, and stop being straight with you.
  • Micromanaged employees become disengaged. They resent your role as manager and do not become proficient at doing their jobs. They lose the willingness to make sacrifices; they put in time but little else. Their apathy is contagious, affecting not only their own productivity but also that of their colleagues. Micromanaged employees become confused and angry, and they suddenly quit, going work for another company.

Additionally, the more that CEOs micromanage, the less time and energy they have to give to the critical work of a CEO. If a CEO focuses on tactics, then no one is attending to vision, direction and strategy. If a CEO keeps busy with day-to-day operations, then no one is taking the long-range perspective. If a CEO is spending time telling employees exactly how to do their jobs, then no one is inspiring and motivating them or building a company team.

Are You a Micromanaging CEO? 

Ask yourself six questions (The Consequences of Micromanaging).

  1. Do I spend a considerable amount of time telling employees how to do a job correctly and specifically telling them what to do?
  2. Do I devote a lot of time to overseeing the projects of my subordinates?
  3. Am I irritated when subordinates make decisions without consulting me first?
  4. Do I sometimes wish I were back in my previous lower-level job?
  5. Am I the one who signs the checks?
  6. Am I spending more time with operations then planning my company’s strategy and growth?

If you answered YES to two of these questions, then you are probably micromanaging your employees.


One Antidote to Micromanaging:  Delegating

One antidote to micromanaging is learning to delegate.  Delegation is a critical skill both for personal success and for the success of the company you lead, and I have written before about the importance of delegating and about what delegating is and what it isn’t (Are You a Work HoarderThe Beginning Delegator; and Know Why You are Delegating).  Like any other leadership skill, you can’t acquire it by reading a book (Leadership is Like Skiing:  You Can’t Learn It by Reading a Book).  You might intellectually understand delegating after reading a book or an article, but that doesn’t mean you can do it. You have to unlearn old habits, default reactions, and assumptions about human nature in order to adopt new and different choices and behaviors.  That takes time and effort—and you may need someone to help you.

Some Things to Start Doing Now

Even though it may take some time for you to develop your delegating skills, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do in the meanwhile.  Here are three simple (but still challenging) things you can do to start curtailing your micromanaging.

  • Pick your battles. Let go of the minutia. There are more important things for you to obsess over than a logo, the colors on your website, or how many power outlets you need in your booth at a trade show. When you are hunting big game, don’t swat mosquitoes.
  • Stop making purchasing decisions. Obviously, controlling costs is essential to the success of any business—but a quick and easy way to alienate your employees is to micromanage purchasing decisions. Instead, figure out what dollar amount you’re comfortable with for a particular project and allow team members to make financial decisions on their own as long as they stay within the budget.
  • Let people meet—without you. Often micromanaging CEOs aren’t comfortable with their people meeting without them. Rather than just attending strategic meetings, micromanaging CEOs sit in on (and control) tactical meetings. Let your people meet without you—and without needing to get permission from you to meet. Instead, get a weekly briefing from department heads or project leaders.
Kevin Dincher

Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting, but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources. Email: kevin@crazymoonconsulting.comLinkedIn: kevindincherTwitter: kdincher

Topics: CEO Business Strategy