Micromanaged: 30 Feet Is A Long Way To Fall

“Here’s what’s going to happen. I am going to have to fix you, manage you two on a more personal scale, a more micro form of management. Jim, what is that called?”

  • Michael Scott, Dunder Mifflin Paper Company

Throughout college I worked for a small construction company.  On my first project we were replacing the roof and siding on a house.  Between the banter and music playing, I genuinely enjoyed the atmosphere and work.

Later in the day, John, the owner of the company arrived.  John is a wonderful man and I consider him a friend to this day.  The lessons in management John would teach me (some purposely and some accidentally) served me well in life.

As soon as he arrived the atmosphere changed: jumping in and out of tasks, giving unnecessary instructions, and he even pulled me off the job entirely to run an errand with him.  Almost as a matter of principle, John insisted that you should carry supplies to the roof every time you climbed to the top.  He did it himself carrying rolls of aluminum, shingles, nails, and even a scaffold platform to the top. 

The problem was that none of those materials were needed at the time.  The bigger problem was that it required the crew to work around them.  The biggest problem was the large scaffolding platform.  The high side of the house was 30 feet off the ground so we had built 3 columns of scaffold with walkways between. 

The platform John unnecessarily carried up was placed directly behind Stewart while he diligently worked on one of the columns.  Stewart, a seasoned and formidable ex-marine, didn’t know it was behind him as he stepped back, stumbled on it, and nearly fell.  Incensed and with a torrent of angry words, he snatched the platform and launched it like a javelin into the yard.  The 2ftx5ft wooden plank surrounded by metal stuck in the ground.  That moment stands in my mind.  Stewart staring at John in anger and the platform swaying back and forth.

Why did John and Stewart behave as they did and how do you fix it? 

There are some “convenient” answers to that question for both. 

John is an overbearing owner who disrupts and micromanages.  He shouldn’t micromanage or be disruptive.

Stewart is a loose cannon who gets mad and acts dangerously.  He shouldn’t get mad or throw things.

How often have you heard something similar in your own life?  The simple explanation of the bad behavior ingeniously followed with a “don’t do that bad behavior”.

You see, these answers and fixes may partially explain HOW someone acted or WHAT they did but they give no insight into WHY.  But figuring out WHY will give you something meaningful and lasting.

Maybe instead of the easy answers we can start by assuming they’re both good people who just want to do what’s right.

Maybe John is an overbearing owner because he cares about his company and although his actions are completely wrong, they’re rooted in good intentions.  Perhaps he disrupts and micromanages because he wants to be relevant, close to the work, and he does not trust his people.

Maybe Stewart is a loose cannon because he’s frustrated and although his actions are completely wrong, they’re rooted in his desire to feel self-worth. Perhaps he gets mad and throws things because he knows he isn’t trusted to do a good job which makes his life harder.

The common theme is TRUST.  Trust and lack of trust drive a majority of micromanagement behavior.  Combine a leader’s lack of trust with the need to feel relevant and you are almost guaranteed to have a toxic culture in your company.  What Stewart did was wrong but it was caused by John.

Most employee behavior, good and bad, is in some way caused by their leaders.  Leaders should first look to themselves, take a step by and truly try to understand WHY their employees do what they do.

If you’re a leader that finds yourself jumping into tasks you shouldn’t be, looking over your employees’ shoulders or frequently giving directives rather than direction its possible that you and your organization are suffering.  And although your intentions are good, your lack of trust is likely manifesting itself in bad employee behavior.  Worse, as a leader, if “getting involved” or being involved is a driver of your self-worth consider that you may be holding your employees back from their real potential, building a toxic culture, and hurting your bottom-line. Being disruptive to good employees will make them leave your company, a lose-lose for you because you lose good people and retain the wrong people.

Don’t let lack of trust or fear of being irrelevant effect your organization.  At Aurelius Consulting Company, we can help restore two-way trust between leaders and employees, help leaders cope with the need to be relevant by channeling their energy into the right areas, and stop good employees from leaving your company.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: