Managing Others: One Size Does NOT Fit All

Question: I am so confused. One of my direct reports calls me a micromanager. He seems to resent any ideas or suggestions that I give him about his work. My other direct report claims that I practice “abandon management” by not giving her enough guidance and coaching on her work. What is the right amount of involvement I should have as a manger to make everyone happy?

Alice Waagen says: First, give up on making everyone happy. That is impossible. Second, realize that terms like micromanager and abandonment are not defined by you; they are defined by your direct reports based on their individual needs. Each person will have their own unique definition of what constitutes the right amount of management intervention in their work based on the difficulty of the assignment and their years of experience as well as their confidence in their skills and abilities.

Here is how to learn the right level of involvement for each of your staff. Talk with each one about the assigned project and ask them their expectations of your role in the assignment. You can even draw a continuum with one end being frequent check-ins and updates and the other end complete autonomy. Then ask where on this continuum do they see you. Get very specific about the actions and behaviors they need from you including frequency of status checks, reviews and approvals, and the types of decisions you are letting them make. The big issue is not the level of involvement you think is needed or they think they want. The critical thing is that you both are in agreement. There is nothing wrong with abandonment management if that is what the staff person needs and you agree with them. Likewise micromanagement is not a bad technique if the employee is new and inexperienced. The biggest challenge in managing others is understanding that one size does not fit all. Your management relationships need to be negotiated and adjusted continuously. Success is in mutual agreement not in assumptions and guess work.

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