I work with hundreds of department heads and people leaders all over the world and a common theme I am picking up on at the moment is: our new leaders are either fresh from university or they have been pre-maturely promoted to being in charge of teams because we had to (the war on talent is felt everywhere). These new leaders smart, driven humans but have very little to no experience in managing and leading other people. There is a lot of micro-managing going on and more employees are leaving in droves.

The fact that attracting and retaining staff is challenging right now and probably will be for another couple of years won’t change. But we what we can change is develop these new leaders and help them to go from micro-managing to empowering.

What is micro-managing?

There can be a misconception about what micro-managing is. Lia Garvin describes it perfectly in this HBR article:

When we think of the controlling boss, we often think of someone yelling at their employees, telling them they can’t cut it, and creating an all-around hostile work environment. But this is often not the case. It can be a slippery slope from kindly “wanting to be looped in” to full on micromanagement. By micromanaging, I mean being overly prescriptive on tasks and follow ups — to the point of taking learning opportunities away from your team. Yes, your greatest weakness can be that you care too much.’

Believe in their potential

For me, shifting from micro-managing to empowering starts with our mindset. We have to believe that our team members have the potential to execute their tasks and solve problems. Learning about and applying a growth mindset for young leaders is the best starting point in my experience. The organisation has their role to play here too. Ask yourself: is it ok in your company to ‘not know’, even as a subject matter expert? When new leaders can rely on a culture where it’s ok to not have to have all the answers and rely on your very clever team of experts, they will feel they can empower others.

Garvin talks about a slippery slope from wanting to be looped in to full micro-managing. I think it’s a fine line as well. It’s a manager’s job to set clear expectations and hold their teams accountable for delivery and performance. What I often see happening is that mistakes are made or timelines look at risk, new leaders immediately step in and put out fires. When this happens over and over again, team members rely too much on their leader or even become dependant on them. A perfect backdrop for micro-management. Teach your new leaders

  1. How to set clear expectations
  2. Apply a growth mindset and build trust
  3. Hold their team members accountable
  4. Avoid back-delegating
  5. Use a leader as coach approach to empower people.

There is a real focus on Leader as Coach skills in organisations right now and I teach these skills in various industries multiple times a week. Being able to us a coaching approach whilst managing and leading people, meaning: well, first of all believe in the full potential of your people. And shift from advice giving and problem solving to asking open questions and encourage your team members to think for themselves more. Ask:

  1. What is the challenge you have?
  2. What would you like instead?
  3. What’s one thing you can do?
  4. What have you done in the past or seen others do to solve this?
  5. What are you going to do now?

This is a very quick way to coach someone to come to their own solution or problem solving. Key skills in leaders as coach approach are open questions, pausing, listen deeply, ask another question

If you want a culture where people feel empowered and not micro-managed, equip your leaders (on all levels but focus on your new leaders) with the right skills.

We run workshops and leaderships programs for new leaders all around the world. Get in touch if you want to empower your people.

Jessica Schubert

Jessica Schubert is a Leadership Expert, Executive Coach, Facilitator, Author and Speaker. She is obsessed with helping people realise their potential and unlock their inner genius.

Born in Cologne, Germany, Jessica has travelled the world and has spent more than 20 years leading cross-cultural teams in competitive markets throughout Europe and the Asia Pacific. As she worked with and coached her own diverse, cross-cultural teams, she came to realise that learning about yourself and developing interpersonal skills is the most powerful tool to lead and influence people around you.

In 2013 she launched Intact Teams, where she and her team have worked with thousands of leaders in organisations worldwide, delivering custom-designed leadership programs and workshops. These interactive and engaging programs are offered both virtually and in-person, helping leaders and their teams succeed in a complex and ever-changing business environment.

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Jessica Schubert