Confessions of a Recovering Micromanager

As I walk into the room, there are chairs in a circle. I take my place among them. One by one we begin to introduce ourselves. “Hi, I’m Wayne,” I say. “I’m a micromanager.” “Hi Wayne,” the group says in monotonic unison.

As the discussion begins, I study the agenda as a scientist would study bacteria a petri dish. I notice several grammatical mistakes that make me wince. I also notice that points two and three would work better if they were flipped. “I’m sure it was a simple error” I say to myself, and add excitedly, “Hey, maybe they need someone to help with the agenda!”  

The energy in the room is electric and conversation is in high gear. We’re all getting along well. However, at some point, the dialogue begins to wander off topic. I cannot help myself. An uncontrollable urge incites me to lift my hand and say to our leader, “I feel like we’re wandering off topic and won’t make it to point 3 by the end of our session. Do you think we should try to get back on task?” My enthusiasm is not shared by the group. Such is the life of a micromanager. It’s a blessing and a curse. I’m happy to proclaim, I’m a recovering micromanager.

There are many problems with being a micromanager. Here’s what I feel are the top three:

The problem of pride:

As a recovering micromanager, I used to think to myself, “nobody can do it like it needs to be done. I just have to do it myself.” What I was suggesting was, “I’m the one who sets the standard for excellence.” That’s an extremely prideful declaration.

Over time, I learned that, in reality, my attitude was the problem.

I got one of those emails recently that I just love. It was from one of the guys on our tech team. A dedicated volunteer who works with our audio podcast and video and content upload. As a former manager of a radio station, I have a passion for these things and helped with the audio editing and upload. The gist was, “Hey Wayne,” he said, “I just wanted to let you know that we’ve integrated the audio and video and it’s something that I can do on a weekly basis.”

At first I thought, “I really love helping in this area and will miss it.” And then I thought, “wow! I don’ have to do this anymore!” I was truly overwhelmed and thankful that someone was able to take this task off my plate—especially since they have the passion and gifting to do it better than I ever could.

In truth, I don’t always have the best idea. Thus, I have learned the value of teamwork, brainstorming, and delegating. Lots of people working together means lots of good ideas. I love it when everyone can brainstorm an idea and then everyone can share the credit. As Pink Floyd says, “all and all we’re just another brink in the wall.” Being a brick in the wall is a good thing. Thinking you are the only brick, not so much.

The problem of productivity

You’ve probably seen the trick of someone attempting to spin several different plates on top of sticks. It’s fun to watch. The challenge is keeping all the plates spinning so that they don’t wobble and fall. This takes constant maintenance. The person must run from plate to plate and the maintenance never stops.

According to a November 2014 Harvard Business Review, “While micromanaging may get you short-term results, over time it negatively impacts your team, your organization, and yourself.” The plates come crashing down.

As a recovering micromanager, I found that when I micromanaged, I would have to pull myself away from something I was doing to perform a task that someone else was supposed to be doing. This led to frustration, anger, and resentment.

There are some things that I am responsible for and only I can do. For example, as the pastor of First Baptist Church, I am responsible for general oversight. This can be a daunting task. I’m thankful for caring and qualified folks who love the Lord and lead various teams. They ensure that the work gets done and that God gets the glory.

There are some things that I do that no one else is responsible to do. For example, every Sunday morning, I am called and commissioned with the privilege to address our congregation with a lesson from the Bible. That’s my calling—my work. The research and preparation take hours each week. That’s a task that only I can do. If my week is filled with doing everybody else’s job and I have not adequately done my job, I have only myself to blame and everyone suffers. The plates come crashing down.

The problem with people.

There’s a phrase that I picked up some years ago and have incorporated into my daily life: “Many times, people are not the problem. The problem is the process.” I truly believe this.

You may object and I understand. For years, I worked in management. I truly understand that sometimes, people in an organization just won’t or can’t complete a task that they are given. At times, these are great people that are just on the wrong seat on the bus. At other times, people are just on the wrong bus.

But, as a recovering micromanager, I found that oftentimes, the problem was the process. By doing a task that someone else should be doing, I prevented them from growing to their full potential. I just didn’t know it. In fact, I didn’t even really realize I was doing it. According to one survey, 79% of employees said they’d been micromanaged on the job. However, 91% of their managers were unaware that they were micromanaging.

I wasn’t trying to be mean. As a control freak, I just felt it would be quicker if I just did it myself rather than having to teach someone else how to do it. I thought I was being nice. This led to misunderstanding, mistrust, and hard feelings.

Thankfully, over time, I learned to invest myself in people and empower them with the time and resources necessary to complete the task. Now, I’ve learned rather than fixing it myself or by beginning with the solution and saying, “please fix this thing this way and do it by Tuesday;” I’ve reframed by language by saying, “here’s the issue we’re facing. In the past, this is what we have done. What ideas do you have of how we can fix the issue?” Oftentimes, the solution is better than I could have ever imagined. It’s a team effort and a win/win.

It’s impossible to discuss modern civilization without talking about the influence of the Romans. Most of the time, when we think of ancient Rome, we think about the military, the roads or political structure.

There’s another contribution the Romans have made that deserves mention: Roman architecture. One of the things that the Romans gave us was the arch. Before Rome, like in the times of the Greeks, buildings were impressive on the outside, but they used columns and lintels for support. The structure was simple and the interior was not impressive because it was limited by support.

The Romans, however, began to experiment with the use of arches and different types of concrete. By using arches, the weight was not upon the lintels, but was evenly distributed among the individual bricks. Each brick supported another brick—thus distributing the weight evenly. Their buildings showed amazing strength and beauty.

And such is the value of a team: evenly distributed responsibility, amazing strength, and a beautiful product.

Micromanagers often say, “I just have to do it myself.” As a recovering micromanager, I understand that I can’t do it alone—nor am I meant to. I choose to involve others in the process and I no longer have to bear the burden. Overcoming micromanagement is not easy, but it is worth it. It produces more friends, a better product, and it saves a lot of money in having to buy new plates.

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