Micromanaging: a communication problem?

Cartoon of fierce blue eyes with frowning eyebrowsMost people have had to work for or with a micromanager at some point in their career. (If you’re one of the lucky few who haven’t, congratulations – and I hope your luck holds!)

Micromanagement, according to Wikipedia, is:

a management style whereby a manager closely observes and/or controls and/or reminds the work of his/her subordinates or employees. Micromanagement is generally considered to have a negative connotation, mainly because it shows a lack of freedom in the workplace.

I’d add that it shows a serious lack of trust, as well.

There’s one single instance where micromanaging is appropriate: when you’re working with an employee who’s just learning a new skill or process. But then it’s not micromanaging at all; it’s training.

Micromanaging is often viewed as a control-freak problem, where the manager in question is so invested in their own sense of control – and so fearful of being out of control – that they can’t let go. They insist on knowing every detail of what’s happening, what’s been done, how it was done, whether it was done the way they’d do it, what hasn’t yet been done, why it hasn’t been done, when it will be done …

It’s exhausting, for the manager as well as for the employee.

So let’s look at what you as the manager – or you as the employee – can do differently.

You, the manager (employees, read this too)

First off, if you’re reading this, congratulations: you’ve acknowledged that you just might be a micromanager.

Next, consider the title of this article: could your micromanaging tendencies be a communication problem?

Do you have, or have you had, employees who don’t provide status updates, but leave you flapping in the breeze when your management asks what’s happening?

Perhaps you’ve been burned in the past when something went wrong, but you didn’t know about it in time to take action.

Maybe you’ve had to deal with an employee who thought they were capable of completing a task or project, and you didn’t find out in time that they weren’t.

At heart, you know micromanaging isn’t efficient or effective. You know it’s irritating your employees and taking up big chunks of your time – time better spent elsewhere. But there it is; you keep getting sucked in.

I suggested in the title of this article that micromanaging is a communication problem.

What communication process could you put in place to feel less like you need to constantly check up on your team?

What about a weekly status update – an email every Friday at noon?

That’s just a suggestion, and maybe during a critical project phase or high-stress time you’d need a daily update.

Whatever you choose, you’ll know that the update is coming, which will help you resist the urge to call, email, or text your employees to ask what’s happening.

Also, read this: The Dangers of Delegation (true story, with dog)

You, the employee (managers, read this too)

Your boss is hanging over your shoulder, watching everything you do.

Maybe not literally, maybe not every minute, but it feels that way.

You’re afraid to make a mistake. You dread “doing it wrong” (meaning, not the way your manager would do it). Never mind the possibility of missing a deadline.

I’m going to ask you to consider one of my favorite questions.

Why would a reasonable person do this?

Meaning, Why would a reasonable person micromanage their employees?

I know what your immediate answer is – they’re not reasonable!

Set that aside. Pretend. Imagine hard. And think about what I wrote, above, for the manager.

Is it possible that you don’t communicate enough for them? Is it possible that, as I suggested, they’ve been burned by bad communication leading to real problems? Could you communicate a little more?

Perhaps you can go to your manager and ask How would you like me to provide status updates? I can send you a weekly email, for instance. Would that help?

Depending on your relationship, you could gently mention that you feel a bit watched, not to mention hovered over… and that it slows you down and makes you less productive than you’d like to be.

Or you could send them this article!

For both of you

Micromanaging isn’t good for your career, whether you’re on the receiving end or the micromanaging end.

Find a way out, whether that’s through better communication or some other path.

You’ll both be happier, more productive, and more successful.

gljudson Better conversations, Management & Leadership

Brainstorming … with a remote team

Trying to figure out how to brainstorm on video?

Wondering what you can do to pull your remote team into a brainstorming session that will actually work? (Yes, your suspicion that brainstorming sessions are often less than wonderfully effective is true!)

In this video, I share my two top approaches for effective brainstorming with remote team – OR in person. And my guess is that you’ve never tried at least one, and maybe neither of them.

Resources

Tomato-cutting article: https://www.gracejudson.com/sandwiches-or-salad/

Article: “Stop the brainstorming madness!” https://www.gracejudson.com/stop-the-brainstorming-madness/

gljudson Better conversations, Video

You’re the BOSS of you – if you want to be

Photo of a hand breaking through a piece of paper pointing directly forwardI love it when a client takes control of their career instead of letting it drag them around.

But it’s painful and frustrating when I see another client struggling to take initiative, to do the research, to actively own the process of becoming better at what he does.

I suspect our educational system and overall cultural approach to raising children is at fault. We expect rote learning in schools, parents expect obedience from children, and rebellion – which might simply be creative thinking – is squashed.

Not everyone wants to be a business owner. Not everyone wants to be the company CEO. That’s fine.

And it’s pretty obvious that not everyone can be a business owner or a corporate CEO. We need employees, or the device you’re reading this on would never have been made.

But if you want a fulfilling, meaningful career – if you want a fulfilling, meaningful life – you need to think about what “fulfilling” and “meaningful” mean. (Hint: it doesn’t have to be entrepreneurship or the corner office.)

Do you know what you want?

And I don’t mean things. I mean your life experience. Which is made up, in essence, of your career, your relationships, and your self.

Do you know what you need to do and become to get it?

Do you evaluate the continuing relevance of what you want?

Do you adjust your course when you go off track?

Yes, it takes effort, thought, intention, time. And yes, it’s risky and vulnerable.

But if you settle for being spoon-fed – told what to do and when and how to do it – then you get what’s in the spoon.

No choice there, and too bad for you if you don’t like it.

 

gljudson Career development

Remote Team Meetings – 7 Quick Tips

Trying to hold meetings when everyone’s working from home, the dog’s barking, and the cat’s trying to sit on the keyboard?

Here are seven quick tips to make your remote team meetings productive and enjoyable when you’re all working from home! (In fact … don’t look now, but your meetings just might be even better than they were when you were all sitting around the conference table together!)

Resources

Hilarious video on the Conference Call in Real Life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYu_bGbZiiQ

Follow the hashtag #TheLeadershipGeekWorksFromHome for more tips:

gljudson Management & Leadership, Video

Managing the emotional labor of leadership

Photo of exhausted woman with her forehead resting on the edge of her laptopThere’s a reason you end the day tired, worn out, and even exhausted.

Management and leadership are hard work.

The mental and emotional work of keeping track of your team’s progress, understanding what’s going on for each team member individually, being aware of what they need from you in the moment, interpreting your boss’s priorities (and moods!) …

It’s a lot.

Add on the pandemic, creating layers of anxiety and stress as people struggle to keep themselves and their families safe while also trying to decipher this whole work-from-home thing, and it’s a really lot.

Emotional labor often goes unrecognized. Or – worse – the resulting exhaustion is sneered at as wimpy or as “just” a women’s thing, a feminist complaint.

While it’s true that women generally shoulder significant emotional labor that men don’t, emotional labor is not, by any means, something only women deal with. In fact, management and leadership require a great deal of emotional labor, as this article from the Harvard Business Review website points out.

So how do you manage it? How can you keep yourself from being depleted and exhausted by the end of the day, and drained by the end of the week?

Acknowledge the reality

It’s easy to think that something is wrong with you because you’re worn out and end up collapsing on the weekend. After all – you might think – you didn’t really do anything that difficult. There was no overtime. You didn’t exert yourself physically in any unusual way. It’s not like you’re a construction worker, hauling heavy stuff and scaling roofs all day.

Stop right there.

You did do mental and emotional labor, and the brain does demand food and rest, just as your muscles do.

Emotional labor is real, and it takes a toll. You wouldn’t question being tired after a hard day working in the garden or painting your dining room. Don’t question why you’re tired after a hard day of emotional labor.

It doesn’t mean you’re a wimp. It means you’re a human doing hard work.

Talk about it

Once you’ve acknowledged the reality, it’s time to help others understand as well.

Just like you, your team is going through a lot right now. Trying to work from home when you’re not used to it, especially when the entire family is also stuck at home and everyone’s stress levels are high (which means everyone is doing more emotional labor than usual) – it’s hard.

Talk about it with your team. Acknowledge it for them as well as for yourself.

And talk about it with your family, too, and encourage your team to talk with theirs. Everyone – even young kids – is experiencing extraordinary stress, uncertainty, and confusion right now. Unusual circumstances and disrupted routines all take (wait for it…) extra levels of emotional labor. Bring the subject into the open and normalize it for everyone.

Manage it!

You need time to recover from emotional labor, just as you would from physical labor.

And everyone’s preference for recovery is different.

Some people may need quiet time with what one client calls a “fluffy” book – something mindless but amusing.

Others may want to play an intense round or two of Scrabble.

Or take a hike out in the fresh air.

Play with the dog.

Dive into a hobby.

And so on. There’s no “wrong” way to recover, and every person gets to decide what’s best for them.

Just don’t choose something (such as binging on news or social media) that actually adds to your emotional-labor burden.

And take care that your recovery preference doesn’t require emotional labor from someone else … who may not have it to give.

Micro-breaks help

You generally can’t sit down to read a novel or head out for a hike in the middle of the workday.

But you can take micro-breaks.

Make a list of small things you can do to give your brain a break. You’ll be amazed at how refreshing a five-minute pause can be, whether it’s a short session of chair yoga, a moment outside to feel the air on your face, or  a few minutes to love up your dog or cat (or goldfish, or bird, or whatever) – one of the perks of working from home!

With a list at hand, you won’t have to waste time thinking up what to do when you have a few moments available. (And – ahem – having to come up with an idea is emotional labor!)  Got five minutes before your next meeting? Pull out your list, pick something, and there you are: a little ease just arrived in your day.

Finished with a task and ready to switch to the next thing on your to-do list? Stop! Take out that list, find a five- or ten-minute idea, and give yourself that break.

Energy management is important

Emotional labor is a fact of life, just like physical labor.

And just like physical labor, pushing too hard on the emotional labor leads to injury.

Tired is okay. Tired means you exerted yourself in some way, and it can feel good to be pleasantly tired at the end of the day.

Exhausted and resentful is something else again.

Exhausted and resentful at the end of every day and every week are clear signs that you’re headed for burnout.

Stop before you get there. Because recovering from burnout takes a long time – just like recovering from a broken bone or torn ligament.

gljudson Self-talk

Communication for Managers – Styles and Solutions

Communication is one of THE most important skills for managers.

How you communicate impacts everything you and your team do every day. Delegation, explaining goals, defining expectations, giving feedback, handling conflict and disagreement – it’s ALL ABOUT your ability to communicate well – your communication skills.

And that starts with understanding the five different communication styles, as I describe in this video.

Resources

I’m offering the worksheet and style guide from my Empowered Leadership program for you to download here: https://www.gracejudson.com/ytcommunicationstyles/

How are YOUR leadership communication skills? Take the quiz! https://www.gracejudson.com/leadership-communication-quiz/

gljudson Better conversations, Video

How are you identifying “hi-po” leaders?

Graphic of business people standing on brightly-colored puzzle piecesWhat are you doing to make sure the right people are in your Emerging Leaders program?

Assessing your current workforce allows you to evaluate who’s ready for advancement and training.

But while the usual practice is to select the high-potential (a.k.a. “hi-po”) individuals, that’s not always the wisest option. It’s an acceptable starting point, but we need to remember that high-potential employees are often classified as such by alert, aware managers – in other words, by the managers who are excellent leaders themselves.

What potential is lurking in other areas of your organization, and how can you discover it when their managers aren’t already sponsoring them?

I’ll answer that question in a moment. I want to first address the question of what to do with these people once you’ve found them.

Where does leadership capacity begin to be developed? How and when are management practices and habits acquired?

You’ll notice that the second question doesn’t ask about “good management practices and habits.” And that points directly at the answer to the question.

Leadership capacity and the ways in which a manager functions – those practices and habits – starts when an individual is promoted from team member to manager.

As a manager yourself, you, like everyone I’ve talked with about this, undoubtedly remember that time. A client experiencing this transition exclaimed, “My whole world is upside down!” And that’s exactly what it’s like.

It’s simple enough: if a newly-promoted manager isn’t supported in learning how to manage and lead well, there’s a high risk that they’ll learn bad habits and practices. A CEB Global report, cited on Inc. magazine’s website, indicates that nearly two-thirds of managers fail in their first couple of years. And we know that many, if not most, employees who quit, do so because their manager has driven them to seek a better experience elsewhere.

If someone has earned a promotion to management, surely they’ve also earned the training and support to succeed in their new role. And if we want to avoid manager failure – and all the costs associated with it, including the cost of replacing them and the employees who quit because of them, not to mention the expense of their failed or delayed projects – then surely we can justify the cost of training and support.

I suggested earlier that it’s strategically smart to look beyond the obvious “hi-po” employees for your candidates for leadership training.

But how do you do that? How do you find the first-line managers who have potential, but aren’t being sponsored by their managers?

Here’s how: ask for applications.

Make it an open application process where anyone who wants to qualify for the training-and-support program have to submit a formal application.

I suggest these criteria:

  • Compile a set of questions requiring knowledge and understanding of your industry and your company. The answers should be essays, not multiple choice, in order to demonstrate the applicant’s written communication, critical thinking, and logic skills. Be careful not to expect manager-level thinking; remember, the whole point here is to qualify them for management and leadership training!
  • Ask them why they want to be a manager and leader. What does it mean to them personally? This is not the outdated question “where do you want to be in five years?” It’s about their values and desire, beyond the increase in pay, to advance and be a true leader.
  • Require a memo of recommendation from their immediate supervisor, at least one peer, and one other manager within the company.
  • Consider blind submissions, if at all possible. We know, sadly, that certain identifying characteristics – name, gender, race, and so on – often trigger bias, whether unconscious or overt.
  • Convene a panel of five to review and rank the applications. Make sure they have clear guidelines for accuracy and readability. Ask the panel to review each application individually, and then meet as a group to go over the top candidates. How many they ultimately accept is, obviously, dependent on how you design the training-and-support program – in-house, outsourced, time span, budget, and so on.

When you leave it up to managers to select employees for professional development programs, there’s an aspect of randomness to it; it depends entirely on those managers, who may or may not be aware, or have the time, and so on. To the individual employee, it appears largely out of their control, based on whether their manager recognizes and acknowledges their hard work, “likes” them, and wants to reward them.

By conducting the selection process in this way, the candidates are more involved, more engaged, and more likely to fully participate in the training program. You’ll also discover some hidden gems in your employee population that might otherwise have gone unnoticed – and perhaps have simply gone, off to a company where their qualities and talents are appreciated and rewarded.

Obviously, this takes some time and effort.

But given the risks involved, and the potential reward, isn’t it worth it?


I think I hear you thinking … who has time to do all that?!

I can help. And probably for a lot lower cost than you might expect. Put yourself on my calendar and we’ll talk about what you’re doing now, and how I might be able to help. No obligation, no pressure, no problem!

Schedule a Call

gljudson Management & Leadership

How to manage negative employees

Do you have a doom-and-gloom employee on your team? Someone who always points out the worst outcome, why ideas won’t work, and generally seems to have a little gray cloud following them around all the time?

They might do great work, but they’re also a drag on everyone’s energy. Even if you don’t work directly with them, you can feel the negativity.

Watch this video and learn some tips for how to manage the negative nay-sayer on your team!

Resources

Article: Are You Contagious? https://www.gracejudson.com/are-you-contagious/

Article: But What About the Baggage? https://www.gracejudson.com/but-what-about-the-baggage/

Leadership A to Z: U is for Upbeat: https://youtu.be/zxNh5ujdAzA

Managing Gossip in the Workplace: https://youtu.be/j5BTMNEfr5M

Building Resilience in the Workplace: https://youtu.be/fdQ5wqrifNQ

How to be an Empathetic Manager: https://youtu.be/BlPQ9_x1hyE

How to Give Negative Feedback to Employees: https://youtu.be/8yEqdml8eH4

gljudson Difficult people, Video

Manage-from-Home Tips

Bitmoji image of Grace working from home.I’ve started a new week-daily post on LinkedIn and Facebook under the hashtag #TheLeadershipGeekWorksFromHome.

I invite you to follow the hashtag on either (or both!) platforms.

What will you be getting? Here are the first eight tips:

1. Reach out daily to check in

Don’t wait for your team members to contact you. There are a host of reasons why they might not, including not knowing if you’re available, not wanting to bother you, and so on. As the manager, be proactive.

2. Encourage virtual coffee meetings, lunch dates, happy hour get-togethers.

Why not schedule one with a couple of work friends on the weekend? It would be a great alternative to binging Netflix!

3. Conduct daily 15-minute check-in meetings.

Maybe there’s a status update, maybe not. Just get everyone on a videoconference call and let each other know that you’re still here, still a team, still all in it together.

Now more than ever, seeing faces and making the connection is important.

4. About those daily meetings…

Open up videoconference “rooms” ten minutes early to allow people to come in ahead of a meeting and socialize IF they want to!

5. When you start a meeting – any meeting!

And even if it’s on old-skool telephones instead of video 😁 – first go around the “room” and ask everyone for an indicator of how they’re feeling.

NOT with a description. With ONE WORD:
Red
Yellow
Green
Pass

This is a non-threatening way of giving each other a clue as to how they’re doing. You can follow up individually later with the Red and Yellow – and maybe Pass – people to see what you can do to support them, if you’re so inclined, but in the meeting itself, no further update is required.

6. Managing across time zones

If you have employees in different time zones, rotate your meeting times so they’re not always favoring just one time, while making other people either get up at oh-dark-thirty or work into the evening.

7. Office Hours

Set office hours and show up on video for anyone who wants to drop in. Daily. Lock the meeting when someone arrives so they have private time – and others know to come back later.

This is the virtual equivalent of having an open-door policy, and it’s a great way to invite your team to just “drop by” as they would if you were all together at the office.

8. Non-work chit-chat is a good thing

Create opportunities for non-work chit-chat, such as would happen naturally in the office. For instance, if you use Slack, open channels for non-work topics – fitness, crafts, cooking, sports, music, and so on.

What are your ideas? Let’s connect!

Maintaining team morale is important at any time, and it’s especially important now when things are in such a surreal, anxiety-inducing state. I’ll be continuing to post these tips on LinkedIn and Facebook, so by all means follow the hashtag AND connect with me on either or both platforms to share your tips!

gljudson Management & Leadership

Humor in the workplace

Have you ever had a joke or April Fool’s prank go really wrong?

It’s hard to know what people find funny, and it’s all too easy to go very wrong with humor at work. Here are some alternatives to pranks and other ways to celebrate April Fool’s at work – including, if you stick through to the end, an out-of-the-box idea that you might really enjoy!

Resources

Alan Alda’s podcast “Clear and Vivid”: https://www.aldacommunicationtraining.com/podcasts/

Leadership A to Z video “U is for Upbeat”: https://youtu.be/zxNh5ujdAzA

Managing a Remote Team video: https://youtu.be/izMt7iq9Di0

gljudson Professional empathy, Video