Awhile back, a client was expressing his frustration with one of his managers. He said:
I’ve delegated the work. I’ve made expectations clear on time, budget, and quality. I’ve set deadlines. But, this person isn’t on track. I see a train wreck coming.
He knew that he could swoop in and take over but, being a good student of leadership, he was fearful of micro-managing. “What to do?” was his question.
I recently stumbled across an article in the Wall Street Journal about an event featuring Warren Buffett. One of the attendees remarked that he was, “Struck by Mr. Buffett’s emphasis on hiring high-quality managers and then getting out of their way.”
The moment I read that, I immediately thought of the situation with my client — and started wondered if I and others have done a great disservice to managers in how much we emphasize delegation.
Warren Buffet is, of course, correct. We should hire the best people and then do as much as we can to get out of their way. I’ve said the same myself to our Academy members and listeners.
And now, with some reflection, I fear that I’ve probably not said enough this next part:
Buffett is describing the ideal. But most of us don’t have the ideal. Most of us didn’t get to pick every member of our team. Most of us don’t have teams of people, all with years of proven track records.
Even when those things are true, almost never does work stay the same. Many of our teams members are doing work they didn’t go to school for — and in some cases, hold jobs that didn’t even exist a few years ago.
In the leadership roles I’ve had in most of my career — and I’m guessing for you too, clear expectations and good people alone haven’t carried the day.
Most team members — and yes, even experienced managers — need support and coaching, especially if the work is new or the situation unfamiliar.
But we are hesitant to step in to help, even when know we probably should, because we fear being labeled as a micro-manager.
It’s not micro-management if everyone’s on board.
It’s not micro-management to assess where someone is and where they need help.
It’s not micro-management to put together a plan to support someone in doing great work.
And it’s certainly not micro-management to agree to check in every few days and spend time training, asking questions, and working through problems.
It’s only micro-management when you do those things, without invitation or buy-in from the employee.
Larry Bossidy is the former CEO and chairman of AlliedSignal and Honeywell. In his book Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done* he reports spending almost half his time developing the executives under him.
Think about that. Half of the CEO’s time at one of the largest and most successful companies in the world.
So yes, hire great people and get the heck out of their way if you’re only slowing them down…but don’t claim fear of micro-management as a proxy to not show up.
If you have someone who’s struggling right now, ask how you can help. If they need and want your support, define check-in points over the next few weeks where you can do just that.
You can help coach, open doors, and provide resources while they still own the work.
If you are supporting people by helping them do their jobs better, that’s not micro-managing. It’s the job that managers are called to do.