How To Stop Your New Leaders From Micromanaging

Article first published on Forbes.com

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Everyone — or almost everyone — wants to get promoted. A promotion is validation; it’s more respect, more money and more control over more of the work. But in my experience as a department head in global ad agencies and an executive coach to newly minted leaders in PR and other industries, leadership abilities have rarely, if ever, been a factor in the decision to promote. This is especially true with creative professionals. They get promoted, in part, due to their excellent work, and it is assumed they will grow into the leadership role. Sometimes this happens, but not always.

If you’re a boss who’s moving a star player into a leadership role, don’t just walk away and hope for the best, and don’t do the opposite either: smother them with suggestions. Moving into a leadership role is a huge transition and it is critical that you be the gentle guiding hand to help the new leader grow. 

Recognize Micromanagement When You See It

A common issue that comes up with new promotions is micromanagement. Because new leaders are likely to have done great work, they’ll want the quality of their work to continue to shine. Yet it’s no longer their own output they have to worry about; now they’re responsible for the output of the whole team. For a brilliant creative pro, the loss of control over every detail can be frightening. The thinking is, “If I didn’t do it, it can’t have been good enough.”

Cries of annoyance are common from teams with a new manager: “I work on it for weeks and then she comes in at the last moment and makes me start again”; “She’s always making changes”; “She’s all over me and won’t let me do what I do.” Newly promoted leaders believe the only way to do it right is to make people do it exactly the way they would have done it themselves. The micromanagement that follows, if unchecked, can soon lead to a retention problem, as grumpy staffers decide they’ve had enough. This is often when HR calls me in to provide guidance for the new manager. Staff dissatisfaction doesn’t always get treated, but good people leaving grabs attention. 

Encourage Your New Leader to Get to Know Their Team 

To head off problems early, encourage new leaders to get to know and respect each person on their team. In my own pre-coaching advertising career, I once made the jump from leading a team of one to 150. No one told me how to do it. I had worked for enough bosses, good ones and horrendous ones, to have a sense of what should work — but it took a while. I spent a lot of time dropping in unannounced on my staff and chatting, learning about them, what were their strengths and where they needed support.

It might be tempting to some new leaders to keep their distance, but it’s important to encourage them to cultivate a trusting and supportive relationship with each team member. The team member will see there is an advantage to be gained from collaboration with the new boss, and the new boss will get a clear picture of what she can safely delegate to whom for the best outcomes. That’s where the gold is: getting to the point where the newly minted leader is delighted with the product and the staffer is thrilled to be working for such a great boss. This trust won’t come overnight — it takes work and has to be earned by both parties. Trusting someone else to do the work as well as they would have done is one of the hardest behaviors for new leaders to acquire. It takes a considerable degree of enlightenment to understand that staff might even do a better job than they would have done.