Micromanaging, trust, transparency (No. 9)

Today we're on a high speed journey through micromanaging, Jeffrey Epstein, and why you need to build trust in your organization

Hi Folks,

Happy Tuesday to you! Today’s the day to day to start our new format. I think you’re going to like it. A little bit about leadership, a little about legal issues, and a little about technology—all of it intended to make you a better tech lead, manager, or leader.

Today we’re going to go on a wide ranging journey from micromanaging on tech teams, to Jeffrey Epstein, to your role in inspiring trust in your employees and government generally. Buckle up.

By the way, today’s issue is free! Get on the list for more like this:

Let’s talk about micromanaging

Let’s get this out of the way: everyone hates being micromanaged.

If you don’t, then you probably haven’t been on the receiving end of it yet. It’s usually the one thing I fear the most when starting a new role, whether it’s a new company or a new team. The idea that I might end up working for some oppressive micromanager controlling and questioning every little move I make gives me shivers just writing it.

However . . . that having been said . . .

I personally like being a very hands on manager—when I can.

The other day, a person asked me, “but how do you draw the line between being ‘hands on’ and micromanaging?” I thought it was a great question to explore.

Every manager or leader needs to understand details

Every manager, at some point, is going to need to have a complete understanding of small details. Whether it’s a high pressure project, an irate client questioning an invoice, or something that went wrong, managers are, ultimately, responsible for the team’s execution, which includes all the details.

So the question can’t be about whether managers get involved in little details because sooner or later all of them will need to be.

Being micromanaged is a feeling

If you need (or want) to get into the details as a manager, I think the pivotal question to ask yourself is: can I predict how an individual team member will feel about my involvement?

After all, micromanagement isn’t something you do so much as it’s something that someone else feels. It’s a conclusion that someone draws about his or her experience with you as a manager. You could do everything right, and someone might still accuse you of being a micromanager.

In some ways, I think micromanaging is representative of a break down in trust, in both directions, and it can sometimes lead to the kind of toxicity that leads to litigation. (Not to add any FUD to your Tuesday, but disgruntled workers are fertile soil for the plaintiff’s bar.)

Two ways to avoid making people feel micromanaged

Fortunately, there are many ways to avoid being a micromanager. Just Google it and you’ll get list after list of things not to do. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I have two things you could do to help:

First, when you’re entering a meeting or conversation where you need to ferret out details, check your intentions and motivations first. If you have motives rooted in fear or a need to control a situation, then you’re going to send signals that you don’t trust the other person and that you’re trying to micromanage them.

Examples of sources of that fear or need to control include:

  • Something went wrong and now you need the details.

  • Your management is on your case about when a project is going to get done.

  • You aren’t happy with the direction of a project or task.

  • You suspect the person or team is underperforming.

  • You’re worried about being seen as a micromanager :-)

Second, before entering the conversation, consider how well you know the other person or the team. If you know them well, you will have some ideas about the right way and right time to ask questions about details or make adjustments. Make those right choices. If you don’t know the team members well yet, then this is a good opportunity to learn more about what works and doesn’t. In both cases, see it as an opportunity to build trust.

And remember, it’s not like you only get one shot at this. If you make a mistake and come across as a micromanager, make sure you get feedback early and and do better next time. As I’ve said a lot of times in other places, I think we put some much emphasis on each conversation, worry about failing, and get too wrapped around the axles about it. Just stay close and build the relationships little by little.

At least one other article generally agrees with me that, done correctly, getting into the details as a manager, sometimes, matters.

Speaking of trust

For better or worse, there is generally no law against micromanaging, but let’s talk about law and order for a minute.

You’d almost have to be living under a rock to have missed the news about Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide over the weekend. He was caught up in terrible legal issues that I don’t even want to go into here.

In a nutshell, he was very well connected politically, awaiting trial in prison, may have had information that would damage some in power, and there were some irregularities in prison policy as to how it is that he was left alone in a room when everyone knew he was suicidal. Conspiracy theories erupted, and President Trump seemed to endorse one of those theories via a retweet.

The reason I bring it up is because it implicates legal issues peripheral to the micromanaging discussion we just had.

Law is one source of trust in our institutions. We’re supposed to be able to trust that things like this don’t happen in America. Similarly, law is a baseline of trust for employees that they can trust their employers to follow at least minimal standards of conduct.

But trust goes beyond legal baselines. If employees and citizens believe they can’t trust either institution, whether the conspiracy theories about Epstein are right or wrong, or that institutions fundamentally don’t trust them (e.g., because insecure, nervous managers are micromanaging), then the whole system we’ve built, especially in our innovation economy, starts to break down.

You can’t make really bold, imaginative, breakthrough performance increases as a team or as a society if people don’t have fundamental trust in their employers or government. When you’re in fear mode, it crushes your ability to be creative and innovative.

So, remember, part of your role as a manager or leader is to represent the company and to instill trust and safety (e.g., through not micromanaging) so people can do their best work. I know you might just getting used to the role, but as you grow into it, keep this in mind.

Have a great Tuesday!


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*LEGAL DISCLAIMERS AND OTHER MUMBO JUMBO: since this is a newsletter from an attorney, it is possible that this could be construed as attorney advertising (in blinking lights, of courts). I should also tell you that anything I say or opinions I offer in the list should never be construed as legal advice — even if you think the facts from some case or situation I discuss are pretty close to yours, small details make a big difference. And besides, since I’m just broadcasting information without seeing your individual situation, how could I possibly be giving you legal advice? Never forget the lesson of the Selfish Giant. And finally, my name is Michael Rice, I wrote this content, I’m licensed in California, and, with rare exception, can only work with clients in California.