Dave Conrad: Good managers get out of the way

Dear Dave:Our "helicopter manager" cannot leave us alone and is smothering us to death. It is like she does not trust us to get busy and do our jobs. We are all dedicated workers and know what we are doing. Can you write something about this for all of those smothering managers out there? —T

Dear T:Your letter reminds me of what management expert Peter Drucker said, "So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to do their work."

Some managers need to learn is that, most of the time, the best thing they can do is get out of the way of the people actually doing the work. If you hired the right people, they are already motivated and will do their work properly.

Managers should spend more time focusing on the obstacles that may hinder people from doing their work by removing the barriers (lack of resources, knowledge, and goals) in front of the people doing the work, so that they can get busy.

Management writers suggest there are two reasons that make managers micromanagers:


• Managers worry about being disconnected: As managers rise through the ranks, they often become concerned that they've lost touch with the actual work of the organization. Because they have less direct contact with the workers, or customers, they start to feel isolated.

• Managers stay in familiar operational territory: Many managers are unable to let go of their old job, or their old ways of doing that job, and they continue to spend time in the more comfortable operational realm of their employees.

Therefore, it is crucial that managers empower their people to manage day-to-day operations and be available to coach them as needed, rather than trying to do their work. In short, teach them, motivate them, and trust them.

I am sure we all have worked for a micromanager — I know I have — at some time during our careers. It is demoralizing. These control freaks are reluctant to delegate, second-guess everything we do, and no one learns anything.

Sadly, simple tasks that you could accomplish quickly, if left alone, take much longer. Your efforts may be thrown out as the micromanager completely re-does your work. Even worse, the micromanager may ridicule you and demean you in front of your peers — that really hurts.

In the world of "minimally invasive management," good managers have three primary jobs: they need to hire talented people; they need to train, develop, and serve their people; and they need to fire unproductive workers. That's management in a nutshell.

• Understand. Start by understanding what causes your manager to act this way. Often it's a need for control that stems from insecurity - a lack of confidence that is exacerbated by a pressure to produce – both individually and as a team.

• Show empathy. Remember, the micromanager is under pressure to hit goals. Show that you understand his or her struggles and are willing to share the load. This could be as simple as offering to help with additional tasks.


• Speak up – prudently. Often micromanagers are oblivious to the impact they are having on other people. So, without being confrontational, find a way to let this person know how the "intense attention" is negatively affecting you and your team's productivity.

Shifting your boss's management style won't be easy, and it certainly won't be immediate. But if you can show her that you're trustworthy, thorough, and ultimately, on top of your work, you'll be able to inspire that change over time.

Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at Conrad is a professor at Augsburg College and directs the school's MBA program in Rochester.

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