Pivot from Micro-Management to Team Empowerment

Many leaders are well intentioned when it comes to supporting their people. They want to protect the team from all sorts of challenges and issues and believe that this is the best way to develop and control the business. However, business owner/ managers who adopt this sort of style pay a heavy price in the mid-long term:

Micro-management will require the leader to take responsibility for all decisions – this is an unrealistic aspiration, as we see over and over again managers cannot do it all. They get overwhelmed as individuals while those working for them become inactive and complacent in their decision making. Because everything needs to be referred upwards, then the manager becomes a bottleneck, slowing down decisions and irritating potential partners.

The team do not learn how to solve problems themselves. This will result in reduced people development and the loss of good people. This means they can’t handle the ‘choppy waters’ independently.

Given their inability navigate independently as a result of the management style, the business experiences lower productivity and a lack of innovation from the team. The ability to move quickly and efficiently to adapt to changing circumstances in these businesses becomes almost impossible. This results in the team sticking to outdated plans and wasting precious time and resources.

Re-think your style…

If you recognise this micro-management style in yourself, make a few mental shifts:

What is causing you to manage the way you do? Where does your instinct to “protect” come from? Do you think your people will fail under pressure and, as a result, make you and the business look bad? Do you believe that their wrong decisions will compromise business outcomes and jeopardise its success? Are you concerned that your value to your team totally depends on your ability to represent all aspects of their work fully? Ask yourself if other leaders in the business are operating under the same assumptions. Challenge yourself to figure out what would need to be true in order for you to let go of this underlying belief. Also think about how your current approach might be harming your team.

By empowering your people to solve their own problems, you can demonstrate your trust and confidence in their abilities. For example, when people raise a challenge, they often don’t need help finding the solution — they either have one already or can come up with one by talking the challenge through with a trusted colleague. You can turn yourself into that colleague to improve your leadership effectiveness and avoid offering solutions too quickly. Doing so also encourages team members to think independently and come up with creative solutions to issues. To help them identify workable solutions and pick the right course of action, consider asking, “What options do you have?”

Short-term ‘misses’ are the key to learning and future opportunities. They can uncover weaknesses, areas of opportunity, and improvement. Allowing your team to “fail” (and learn) independently is a faster path to growth and long-term success than ensuring the short-term outcomes are well controlled.

As leaders grow and their scope of responsibilities expands, their functional knowledge becomes less relevant as leadership skills take priority. Many managers struggle with this identity shift. They worry that if they’re not personally on top of all the details, they’ll be perceived as ineffective when in fact the opposite is true.

Stop chasing down every detail and free up time for activities like figuring out which decisions are critical, clarifying “what good looks like,” and getting in line with your peers and other parts of the business.

Once you’ve adjusted your mindset about how you support your people, you can start to take action and:

Whether the challenge is technical or interpersonal, your job is to help your team develop options for handling the situation both now and in the future. When a team member brings up a challenge, ask what kind of support would be helpful, but avoid putting yourself at the centre of the challenge. Sometimes information and context gaps need to be closed, and the solution can be as simple as directing your team member to the right person to talk to.

Other times, you might find yourself carrying around a huge amount of company/ sector specific knowledge that needs to be transferred. In these cases, there’s no way around spending the time it takes to bring your team member up to speed. However, when you couple this time investment with the additional expectation that your team member will create reference documentation for future members, you reinforce learning and build a stronger knowledge base for your team.

You should still play a part in navigating challenges; in fact, managers are often better positioned to see the underlying forces creating the challenge. If a challenge is best addressed at a higher level in the business, you must work with your leadership and/or peers to find solutions at that level. For example, a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities can cause persistent friction between teams, and misaligned goals can unnecessarily bring different parts of the business into conflict and create power struggles. In these cases, the leader has an essential role to play in removing ambiguity, finding alignment, and prioritising solutions.

It’s never comfortable to navigate new challenges — even the most emotionally resilient among us still have moments of insecurity when stepping outside our comfort zone. However, you can provide a few mental models to support your team and encourage them to tackle difficult situations. For example:

  • Create a “safe-to-try” team environment and embrace a growth mindset.
  • View approaching situations with curiosity instead of fear.
  • Reduce guesswork by clearly communicating assumptions and needs.

Leaders who model optimism set a positive tone in the workplace, empowering team members to recover from setbacks. If you want your team to navigate challenges independently, the worst thing you can do in the face of a setback is look for who to blame. Developing the business muscle to pull together to overcome setbacks is crucial nd while blame is not helpful, team retrospectives can help the team collectively get better at anticipating and avoiding similar setbacks in the future, creating a sense of shared accountability.

Transitioning from protecting to supporting your team will be transformational. Reposition in your mind the value you bring to the business. Shift from ‘doing’ to ‘coaching’ and focus on creating the right team environment and processes instead of concentrating solely on individual outcomes. These changes are all foundational to the transition. Getting out of the ‘middle of management’ makes space for the perspective that is needed to see the business context more clearly and then to spend the required energy addressing functional and process level challenges. Putting away the managerial ‘umbrella’ and fitting your business with a ‘waterproof’ is not easy, but the payoff is worth it.

If you need some help empowering your team, get in touch with us at ignite@tinderboxbusinessdevelopment.co.uk or call us on 0116 232 5231.

Why not have a look at our online learning platform, E-Learn, where you can find our interactive video-based online courses which combine professional presenters, animated graphics, interactive games and questions to keep participants engaged and are available anytime, anyplace on any web-enabled device. E-Learn courses are developed in accordance with current legislation, accredited by industry leading associations and approved by professional bodies.

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The Tinderbox Team

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