Details make perfection
In the previous blog we discussed the blessings of micromanagement: if you want to be the best, it pays to go into great detail. “Details make perfection, and perfection is not a detail,” said Leonardo da Vinci, and that also applies to top-quality products and services.
So micromanaging products and services pays off, but micromanaging people does not: it distracts and undermines self-confidence. Moreover, nobody likes it when people are constantly told in detail what to do and how. People thrive when they can indulge in a task that suits their talents and ambitions, with a certain degree of autonomy, in good cooperation with colleagues.
The micromanager’s urge to control creates resistance. Because people feel affected in their autonomy, while they want to have the feeling that they are masters of their situation. In addition, people under micromanagers experience insufficient recognition. And that is a basic social need: people want to be seen for who they are and what they can do. Lack of recognition also causes resistance.
Out of the stranglehold
How do you get out of the stranglehold of the urge to control? How can you achieve your goals without the resistance that a micromanager typically evokes? Without giving yourself and others the feeling that you have to interfere ‘really on everything’ in order to get the work done properly? How do you involve people in your ambition for quality and results?
In micromanagement, the self-confidence of team members is undermined because they experience insufficient confidence in their qualities. The primary task of management is to build that trust. You do this by being explicit about the qualities you value in your team members and the potential you see in them. One of the most influential thinkers in the field of leadership, Stephen Covey, once summed it up like this: “Leadership is communicating the value and potential of people so clear that they will eventually see for themselves.”
Whenever I work with others I experience how true this statement is and how much people need to be confirmed in their qualities and potential. We live in a society that is disproportionately focused on mistakes and imperfections. More than on potential. Early on in primary school, children learn how much “mistakes” their work contains. But which perspective is better for self-confidence, “two wrong” or “twelve right”? Whenever I ask people about their qualities, I always notice that they are much better able to name their ‘bad’ qualities and ‘weaknesses’ than to talk about their strengths and potential. But when we only talk about their talents, possibilities and ambitions, the relationship transforms: people feel understood, seen and recognized and a better energy is created. The energy of trust.
At team level, the principle is the same as with individuals. I regularly apply the following to teams I work with to build trust and engagement: after we have developed a strategy or change plan, I ask the team members to imagine it is five years later. And that all ambitions and goals from the plan have been achieved. Then I ask the people to write an email to each other, also dated five years later, in which they describe three things:
- why they are so proud of the organization;
- what they value in each of the other team members;
- what they value most in themselves.
It is arranged in such a way that everyone receives all emails at exactly the same time. They are invariably full of positive energy, ambition, enthusiasm and appreciation. The potential that people see together is very tangible1. When the team members have done this, there is always a noticeable increase in energy: there is more appreciation, trust and fun. And that is reflected in the cooperation and better results.
1 This approach is inspired by Benjamin Zander’s YouTube lecture “How to give an A” and the book “The Art of Possibility”, which he co-wrote with his wife Rosamunde (Penguin Books, 2000).
Through such a way of collaborating and forming ambitions – primarily based on possibilities and appreciation – you unleash an aspiration in the team. The aspiration to realize ambitions together, to realize goals, to grow. Aspiration is a much more powerful source of energy than resistance. Resistance lowers the team’s energy, atmosphere and agility. Aspiration increases energy, enthusiasm and decisiveness.
Now the team is ‘on the road’ to realize its ambitions. It is important to maintain the energy and to allow both the individual employees and the team to come into their own. In addition, they benefit more from a facilitating manager who supports, advises and coaches them than from a controlling micromanager. But managers who have arrived at this point will have little interest in the arduous path of micromanagement, which saps too much energy and fun from all involved.