In my early days as an entrepreneur, I insisted on juggling every part of my business. But as the payments platform I co-founded grew, I learned the hard way that nobody can manage everything. Eventually, I had to admit that I was over-managing my team. In doing so, I was stressing out not just myself, but everyone else, and ultimately preventing my team members from taking the sort of risks that are necessary in order for a startup to grow.
To other entrepreneurs and small-business owners, let me say this: I know it’s hard to let go, but by maintaining too tight a grip on your business’s day-to-day operations, you actually risk suppressing the talent your business needs to succeed—employees may grow disenchanted, resentful, or find themselves burned out. One good first step? Start by trying to identify how you may be over-managing and take the right actions to correct your style.
What Is Over-Management?
More than just the inability to delegate, over-management is the passive creation of obstacles that prevent employees from doing their jobs. This—albeit unintentional—leader self-sabotage comes in at least three forms, including:
1. Micromanaging: It’s the classic form of over-management where every detail needs to be done exactly to an over-manager’s specifications. Even when a project is on track, micromanagers hover around to make sure the job is done “right.” This style of management can hurt morale and cut into productivity—employees may at first try to accept micromanagement by labeling it as a leadership style, but in the long-run, it may wear them down to the point where they disengage or deliver the bare minimum.
2. Valuing Results Over People: It’s a mindset where employees’ value is thought of only in terms in metrics. Great leaders take the time to ask themselves what they value more: their employees, or the results they provide. If they think of employees through the lens of results, they may be imposing unreasonable goals on their team. This approach may temporarily produce what they’re after, but it’s likely unsustainable, and can ultimately drive talent away if left unchecked.
3. Moving the Goalposts: Failing to set and commit to clear expectations can hurt employees’ morale and motivation. Some managers do this by failing to articulate exactly what they want, or by seeking a solution to an undefined problem. Others create unreasonable expectations. In both scenarios, employees can grow resentful when they feel their work is under- or unappreciated or that they’re investing their time and talents into projects that have no meaningful goal.
Unfortunately for me and my staff, I over-managed in all of the three ways I just described. It was a painful process to become aware of my actions and the impact they had. But thankfully I also learned a few key techniques to be a more compassionate and effective leader. If the following sound like things good managers should be doing anyway, that’s because they are.
Micromanaging erodes the trust employees have in their leaders. When they worry about being criticized for every move they make, they only act with clear direction from above. The answer is to give employees autonomy. By demonstrating trust, you make team members feel comfortable doing what they think is best—even if it’s not exactly how you’d handle the situation.
When in doubt, scale back management—less is more.
Giving your team space takes self-control. However, you’ll become more comfortable with it when you notice not just more time in your day, but better results. When everyone can concentrate on their own duties, they—and you—can get more done.
Encourage autonomy by giving people ownership over specific projects. Use project management software so they don’t need to report their progress or ask you for next steps mid-project. Simply make yourself available for questions and trust them to handle the rest.
You manage people, not robots. They have emotions, fears and weaknesses. When you acknowledge your employees’ feelings, it doesn’t mean you’re going easy on them, it means you’re showing them you care about them. The more likely you have their trust, the more likely they’ll come to you with problems and more helpful you can be.
Get to know your employees. Have a heart-to-heart chat with each one at least once a quarter. If you can’t solve a fear or concern for them, offer resources and explain that you’ll be by their side as they face it.
The right compliment in the right moment can mean more to an employee than a new title or perk ever could. While managing people does mean providing feedback, try doing so in ways that highlight their value.
Say you have an employee who’s often late. Instead of just berating them for their tardiness, point out something they do better than anyone else on the team. When they’re late, they can’t contribute that skill. This change of approach addresses the issue but doesn’t feel like an attack.
Effective people management is one of the hardest things for a founder to learn. But when you give your employees clear direction and the necessary room to run, you may be surprised by what both of you can achieve. When in doubt, scale back—in management, less is more.
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