Micromanaging Stinks – or Does It?

Micromanaging Stinks – or Does It?

The results are in, and everyone agrees: No one likes to be micromanaged.  Empowerment is good; micromanagement is bad. Case closed…let’s all move on.

But wait… Who’s that over in the corner clearing his throat, challenging this universally accepted notion? Why, it’s the ever-outspoken Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric! And, of course, he sees things differently.  Go figure. 

In a January 2016 article titled, “Why I Love Micromanaging and You Should Too,” Jack explains:

“Your help matters when you bring unique expertise to a situation, or you can expedite things by dint of your authority, or both. Your help matters when you have highly relevant experience that no one else on the team brings, and your presence sets an example of best practices – and prevents costly mistakes. Your help matters when it signals the organization’s priorities, as in, ‘Hey, we have high hopes for this new initiative. That’s why I’m in the weeds with it.’ Your help matters when you have a long relationship with, say, a customer or a potential partner, and your being at the table changes the game.”

Hmm.  He does raise some good points. 

Furthermore, Bloomerg.com points out that some of the world’s greatest innovators and business leaders have been known for their propensity to get hands on. Consider Steve Jobs (Apple), Sam Walton (Walmart), Larry Ellison (Oracle), Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon). Their companies thrived as a result of their uncompromising personal attention. And then there’s perhaps the father of all micromanagers, Walt Disney, who famously sweated every detail because “people can feel excellence.”

Downward Spiral

On the other hand, in 2 Chronicles 26, we read the fascinating story of a leader who clearly took micromanaging too far.

King Uzziah was 16 years old when he began his 52-year reign in Jerusalem. At first, the Bible tells us, Uzziah had a good thing going. “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father Amaziah had done. He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success.” (vs. 4-5)

In the first years, Uzziah’s hands were involved in several fruitful endeavors, including:

  • Successful battles
  • Reorganizing the army
  • Territorial expansion
  • Large-scale construction projects
  • Fruitful agriculture and plentiful livestock
  • Improved technologies, including inventing a handy spear and rock throwing machine, similar to the catapults that were later used by Romans

“His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful.” (vs. 15b, emphasis added)

But all this success went to Uzziah’s head, as he apparently forgot the true Source of his power. By the end of his  reign, Uzziah seemed to believe that in order for his kingdom to succeed, he needed to be involved in every single detail and task.

Uzziah’s success came to a bizarre and grinding halt when he decided to start offering burnt offerings in the temple – a job God had explicitly reserved for the priests. The priests were shocked and appalled by his behavior, and the Bible tells us that the chief priest Azariah along with 80 other “courageous” priests confronted him. (vs. 17)

Even as Uzziah raged at the priests for their audacity, leprosy began to form on his forehead “because the LORD had afflicted him.” (vs 20)

The priests frantically rushed their unclean king out of the temple, and “King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house – leprous and banned from the temple of the LORD. Jotham his son had charge of the place and governed the people of the land.” (vs. 21)

Ouch. From king of the world to an ostracized leper.

2 Chronicles 26:16 explains Uzziah’s embarrassing spiral in a nutshell: “…after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.”

Uzziah: From King to Leper. "His pride led to his downfall." 2 Chronicles 26:16

5 Warning Signs

So what’s the difference between effective attention to detail and destructive micromanaging? As with so many leadership struggles, it generally comes down to pride and fear.

Destructive micromanagers are driven by:

  • Fear that their teams may fail, and
  • A pride-filled mindset that they are the only ones capable of preventing such failure.

And even Jack Welch can’t get on board with that. He writes, “Micromanaging only stinks when bosses do it because they have nothing better to do, or they’re constitutionally unable to trust people, employees included. I’d never support that.”

Micromanagers fear failing and believe only they can prevent it.

Watch for these 5 warning signs that indicate pride and fear might be at the heart of your micromanagement style.

  1. You believe that the success of your team or organization rests entirely on your shoulders.
  2. You’re just as – if not more – concerned about the process as you are about the outcomes.
  3. You think it takes too much time or effort to delegate responsibilities. It’s just easier to handle it yourself.
  4. Those you lead are checked out or frustrated, because they sense a lack of trust or they question what their purpose on the team is.
  5. Those closest to you express concern about your health or well-being, because you aren’t able to let things go.

If you identify with any of these warning signs, take a step back and consider how you might pull out of the weeds, to lead at a higher level.

An article from Harvard Business Review explains, “While micromanaging may get you short-term results, over time it negatively impacts your team, your organization, and yourself. You dilute your own productivity, and you run out of capacity to get important things done. You stunt your team members’ development and demoralize them. You create an organizational vulnerability when your team isn’t used to functioning without your presence and heavy involvement.”

Ebb and Flow

At the end of the day, the decision to be more or less of a micromanager is highly dependent on the circumstances and the people involved. A good leader knows that there is a natural ebb and flow to their personal involvement; they have the wisdom to know when to step in, and when to step back. There are no easy, one-size-fits-all answers.

Effective leaders have wisdom to know when to step in and when to step back. 

Thankfully, we are promised ongoing support and wisdom from the God who literally wrote the Book on how to lead most effectively. All we have to do is ask.

“As long as [Uzziah] sought the LORD, God gave him success.” (2 Chronicles 26:5).

Perhaps we are wise to do the same.

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Heather Day

Heather Day

Heather Day is an accomplished writer and communicator, who served as Lead Like Jesus’ Director of Communications for two years. She also spent nine years as Director of Marketing Communications for Olivet Nazarene University, three years as the Creative Services Coordinator for Bible League International, and two years as Community Outreach Coordinator for St. Anne Community High School. Heather and her husband, Robert, reside in Bourbonnais, IL with their two young children, Emma and Jackson. She is an active member and volunteer leader at Manteno Church of the Nazarene.