Leadership style: pulling the micro-management plug

Leadership style: pulling the micro-management plug

23 December 2020
Gerrit Sarens
Gerrit Sarens
  • Remote working is here to stay. To do this successfully, leadership and collaboration must become explicitly trust-based. But, ... let's pull the micro-management plug first.

  • Losing control creates stress. Micro-management is an anti-stress mechanism.

  • This pandemic is not easy to deal with mentally. The essence can be traced back to losing control. We are definitely not in control. Nature is. And this creates stress, which, in turn, triggers the micro-management reflex. Let’s dig a little deeper into the underlying fears that create stress and lead to a dysfunctional leadership style.

  • Stress is a symptom of underlying fear.

  • If you want to lose the command & control management style, you need to work on the triggers of that functioning. As long as you don’t tackle your fears, your leadership style will not change. Identifying what sets you off is difficult and confrontational. So what are the main anxieties that make micro-management arise?

  • Typical fears that result in micro-management are:

    • Fear of failure: the “I will disappoint my superior”-syndrome
    • Fear of rejection: the “I will get fired”-syndrome
    • Fear of being disliked: the “my manager will not like me”- syndrome
    • Fear of others: the “I don’t want to be worse than others”- syndrome
    • Fear of being stuck: the “I don’t want to admit I don’t know what to do”-syndrome
    • Fear of the unknown: the “what will happen if I let go”-syndrome

    The above fears are often the main triggers of a micro-management reflex. Figure out what your personal triggers are.

  • Replace micro-managing activities

  • An excellent exercise and starting point is to write down typical situations in which you switch to micro-management mode. For each situation, reflect on your underlying worries that push you into micro-management. Develop a list of alternative actions that you can start doing to replace these micro-managing activities.

  • Don’t just reflect about it yourself. Ask your team for honest feedback.

  • Of course, self-reflection is crucial. But it’s equally important to engage your team. It will give you the mirror you’re looking for. And the very fact that you ask for feedback is an essential first step in overcoming micro-management. It shows the team members you are aware of the problem. Daring to be vulnerable is a sign of good leadership. You will probably notice that this step means a lot to them and provides you with a dozen insights.

    Oh, and act on the advice of your direct reports by implementing the changes. It shows they matter and you value their opinion.

  • Learn to delegate, support and mentor your team

  • The role of a manager is to be the team leader, the decision-maker, and the coach. You need to want others to succeed in order to succeed as a leader. It’s no longer about you, it’s about them. You need to re-establish trust by i.e. giving your team members autonomy, admitting your mistakes and uncertainty, thank people publicly, show respect by being on time, prioritizing 1-2-1's, and actually go head-on into those difficult conversations.

    Becoming a true leader is about providing space to your team and that can be scary, uncertain, and new. Let us help you walk the path to the enlightened leader.

  • If you can hire people whose passion intersects with the job, they won’t require any supervision at all. They will manage themselves better than anyone could ever manage them. Their fire comes from within, not from without. Their motivation is internal, not external.

    Stephen Covey

Struggles of a manager

Managers are

  • not or inadequately trained in this role


    • lack self-confidence
    • don’t know how to go from being a colleague to being a boss
    • need to loosen up on the command & control leadership style
    • must let go of the (technical) expert status
    • cannot give or accept constructive feedback
    • feel pressure to perform as manager
    • have difficulty building relationships
    • want to be liked by everyone or want to be the ‘bad boss’
    • play the hero
  • are struggling


    • stay too involved in operations
    • have trouble prioritizing
    • cannot delegate
    • fear conflict situations
    • disconnect from the team
    • deal with flawed strategic thinking
    • do not relate to higher management
    • lack clear communication skills
    • remain not self-aware
    • avoid difficult conversations
    • miss political antennas
    • ...
  • capable of more


    • need mental preparation as successor
    • need to be able to lead big changes ahead
    • need to learn to be emotionally resilient and in control
    • need to learn to make big decisions fast without all the information
    • must become persuasive presenters
    • need to learn how to cultivate their own personal brand
    • need to learn how to lead by example
    • manage by trust, not by fear
    • need to overly develop empathy
    • ...
Subscribe to Ambits Insights

Subscribe to Ambits Insights

Our newsletter is about leadership development through business mentoring.