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How to Stop Micro-Managing Your Team

It is easy for a leader to kill motivation and respect within a team. A lack of attention or emotional connection and you are perceived as being aloof. Too much attention in the day-to-day, and the team feels a loss of autonomy and control. Research suggests that mismatched management reduces morale, trust, and productivity and increases employee turnover. Partnering for performance is one way to develop self-reliant achievers and avoid micro-managing your team. It is a high ROI investment into your success and business growth. Here are three keys to effectively partnering for performance.

What is mismatched management?

Mismatched management occurs when leaders micro-manage and take away decision-making from capable and committed followers or macro-manage and fail to provide enough direction.

Micro-management is a hard habit to break. It is described as an overly hands-on approach when leaders don't delegate, overcommunicate, or manage with excessive control and attention to detail. This leadership style often stems from believing that the leader knows best and the stakes are high. Leaders who trust their follower's competence and commitment are less likely to micromanage.

Self-determination theory (SDT) suggests that intrinsic work motivation stems from the psychological needs of employees to possess autonomy, mastery, and purpose. When leaders micro-manage, it demotivates followers by increasing feelings of loss of control.

Here is a humorous example of micro-management from the movie Office Space.

Macro-management is a hands-off approach when leaders don't get involved and provide too little coaching and support for their team. This style of leadership is described as laissez-faire. Which loosely translated from French, means "let it be." Macro-management often stems from misreading the needs of followers and placing trust in followers based on assumptions rather than mutual understanding. When leaders abandon followers, team members experience feelings of confusion and frustration.

What is partnering for performance?

In today's complex and ambiguous workplace, leaders must excel in managing and leading to achieve success and significance. Excelling in management does not happen without intentional focus and striving for something greater.

"Your role as a leader is even more important than you might imagine. You have the power to help people become winners." — Ken Blanchard⁠

A saying made famous by American football coach Vince Lombardi is that excellence is achieved in the pursuit of perfection. To excel at management requires a clear vision of the ideal and hard work toward performing at the highest level possible.

Partnering is about agreeing on what you and your team need from each other as you work together toward shared goals. It focuses on doing things right and managing routine complexity in day-to-day activities.

A leader's ability to engage and retain their team is essential for excelling in management. When leaders appropriately partner for performance, it leads to an improved discretionary effort, trust, and intent to stay outcomes.

Key #1: High-Quality Relationships

Partnering with followers begins with developing high-quality relationships. These relationships unlock the potential to understand better the stated and unstated needs of followers and the given situation. Leaders with high-quality relationships are more likely to match their management approach with the follower's needs and give their people the space they need to succeed and learn.

A common theme in the research on building or restoring trust in a relationship is to be transparent in your discussions. Ironically, the most robust trust occurs when we can disagree and leave the conversation without negative feelings. The goal is to create safety by being open and candid to demonstrate caring and respect. This intimacy requires being personal and the willingness to have an uncomfortable conversation.

Next, focus on building the relationship. As a leader, this requires you to step back and discuss what works for others and you. Creating a shared idea of success is the goal. The "your way or the highway" leadership style does not work to build or restore trust in relationships. It is essential to understand both the context and perspectives of others and emphasize the other person.

Lastly, do not judge too quickly. Learn to test assumptions about a follower's commitment and capability and try to see the world from their point of view.

Key #2: Diagnosis

Figuring out the follower's task competence level and commitment requires communication and trust-based relationships. Without a complete picture of the needs of followers, it is difficult to get the correct level of attention, leading to followers' feelings of micro- or macro-management. High-quality trust-based relationships create the opportunity for feedback to understand if a leader's understanding is accurate and, as needed, how to align their leadership style.

There are four attributes to diagnose competence and commitment.

  1. What is the specific goal or task in question?

  2. How strong are the follower's demonstrated or transferable task knowledge and skills?

  3. How motivated is the follower toward the task?

  4. How confident is the follower about the task?

Key #3: Agility

Once leaders appropriately understand the follower's needs, they must be agile with their approach to the proper level of support, motivation, and direction needed. Followers with less task maturity need guidance; followers with more significant experience and commitment need more supporting behaviors.

A common fallacy is that followers need the level of direction and support the leader required when they were doing the task or that a one-size fits all approach works. The best practice is to apply the Platinum Rule. Do for others as they would want to have done for them.

Partnering for performance is one way to get the performance you need. What is your real partnering for performance challenge?


Blanchard, K. (2007). Heart of a Leader: Insights on the Art of Influence. David C. Cook Publishing Company.

Glaser, J. (2014). Conversational Intelligence: How great leaders build trust and get extraordinary results. New York: Bibliomotion, Inc.

Leavy, B. (2020). The dynamics of empowering leader/follower relationships. Strategy & Leadership, 48(6), 27-33.

Zigarmi, D., & Roberts, T. P. (2017). A test of three basic assumptions of situational leadership® II model and their implications for HRD practitioners. European Journal of Training and Development, 41(3), 241-260.


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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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