Roger Fairhead Certificate JMT Certified

They did it My Way!

How to stop micromanaging my team.

When I was introduced into a new company, during the first few days during the on-boarding process I was introduced to the senior manager of that department.  One of the things I learned from him is: “Once you’ve learned how I like to work, then you’ll settle in well”.

What he was saying was “This is how I like to work, and how I like to do things.  Learn to be like me and you’ll fit in well”.

You could see that it worked too.  The people who were promoted were the people who were clones of this Senior Manager.  John Maxwell puts it this way in the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, he calls it “The Law of Magnetism: Who you are is who you attract”.  Maxwell observes that people like people who are like themselves, and leaders naturally attract staff who are like them.  This can be a good thing, however, it can also be a problem.

“The Law of Magnetism:  Who you are is who you attract”

~ John C Maxwell

The trouble is that this strategy will only take you, it can only take you, so far.  The best leaders would say: “If you want to see my weaknesses, look at my team”.  And that’s where the real challenge starts.

“If you want to see my weaknesses, look at my team.”

Early on in our married life, my wife, Sue, and I used to spend a lot of time on a Saturday going to collect the weekly shopping.  Now, I hate shopping, but I understand that it’s necessary and needs to be done.  Well, I wanted to help out and as an engineer, I wanted to find a more effective way of getting this job done.  So, I offered to do the shopping on the way home from work, since I passed by the shops on the way.  All I would need would be a suitable list of things to get and that would save us both a lot of time on a Saturday when we could do something we enjoyed instead.

Although I dislike shopping I was prepared to take time out on the way home from work to free up more time at the weekend.  However, my very kind and generous offer was turned down, without much thought or discussion.  I grumpily dismissed it at the time, and deep down I felt that this very reasonable and incredibly sensible solution had been snubbed; turned down without proper consideration, especially since I was making the offer at great personal cost as I disliked shopping so much.  How unreasonable!

It wasn’t until some years later that I discovered the reason.  Sue loves shopping.  From her perspective, what I had offered to do was to take away one of her favourite activities of the week where she could enjoy some leisurely shopping.  Not only that, but she knew how much I dislike shopping, and so she didn’t want to put that burden on me alone.  It was obvious really, why should she give up something she loved doing, only for me to take it on instead and hate doing it.  How stupid!

I’ve seen a similar process taking place during my career as an Engineering Project Manager.  In one company I worked for, the role of progression went from Design Engineer to Senior Design Engineer, to Project Manager, to Group Manager.  I saw so many great engineers move up through that progression plan, only to become stuck in a management job they hated and didn’t do well, having left a job they loved and did to an excellent standard.  

The Peter Principle: ”In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence.”

~ Laurence Peter

That progression has been described as the Peter principle,  a concept developed by Laurence Peter, who noticed that people often get promoted to their “level of incompetence”.   He was describing exactly what I had experienced.  What he described was that an employee is promoted to a new job based on their success in their previous job, until such a time that they reach a level at which they are no longer competent.  This is most often due to the fact that skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another job. 

Peter’s Corollary: “In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.”

~ Laurence Peter

This has been further developed as the Dilbert principle.  This is a concept in management developed by the creator of the comic strip Dilbert: Scott Adams.  Adams, rather tongue in cheek, states that companies tend to systematically promote incompetent employees to management to get them out of the workflow. 

The Dilbert Principle: companies tend to systematically promote incompetent employees to management to get them out of the workflow.

~ Scott Adams

When I started my first job as a Project Manager, I was eager to learn “the right way to manage a project”.  Over the years I discovered that there isn’t one right way to manage a project.  In fact, I’ve learned that the only thing that is consistent between Project Managers, indeed the only thing that’s consistent between leaders in any leadership role, is that they’re all different.  

What I found is that you can manage things, but you need to lead people.  I discovered that a key differentiator for successful projects had a lot to do with effective leadership skills, with leading people well.  What I found is no real surprise; that you can get the best out of people if you can lead them in a way that turns their ‘have-to’ into ‘want-to’, because then people inspire themselves to do a great job.

Part of this process means that you can’t lead everyone in the same way, because everyone is different.  To be a great leader we need to understand the people we are leading sufficiently well to know what it is that inspires them to be successful in their job.  How do they define success?

By micro-managing my team I can try and get them to do things my way, because that’s how I am wired.  I know it works because I’ve given it a lot of thought and this IS the best way of doing the job.  However, not everyone is wired in the same way, and they may have other ways that are just as successful, or perhaps even more successful.  

If, however, we can get to know the people in our teams and find out what it is that inspires them, how they would define success for the job they’re employed to do, then we stand a chance for finding a way to help them turn ‘have-to’ into ‘want-to’.  If we can help them find their “inspiration zone” then they will push through any obstacles in their way, they’ll find a way to succeed.

We can rarely change someone’s behaviour by addressing their behaviour.  For most people, their behaviour is based on their attitude, which in turn is based on their values, which in turn is based on their beliefs.  If they believe that the company “doesn’t care about me” then what should they care about the company?  If they believe that the boss is only on the lookout to further his career at the expense of anyone else, then why should they do what he asks them to do willingly?

If, on the other hand, they genuinely believe that the company does care about them and value them, if they believe that you have their best interests at heart, then, unless they hate their work, most people will respond positively.   If they believe in the work the organisation is doing, and why they’re doing it, then their values will align with the culture of the organisation, their attitudes will be to respond well to meeting expectations, they will want to hold each other accountable to delivering good work and then they’ll find ways to work more effectively.  

“Employees and consumers alike are becoming increasingly intolerant of companies without a cause.”

Employees and consumers alike are becoming increasingly intolerant of companies without a cause.  People want to know that what they’re doing will make a difference, not just make a profit.  If people buy-in to the cause and are aligned with corporate values that are aligned with a worthwhile cause, then micro-management is something that will simply become unhelpful and, in the end, entirely unnecessary.

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a Leadership specialist and uses the PRIZE Winning Leadership model to help leaders improve their effectiveness and that of their teams, through remote and on-site delivery of keynotes, group training events and individual coaching sessions.

He is the author of several books including "PRIZE Winning Leadership" and “Personal Productivity Planner”, a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management and a Director of the Global Leadership Network UK with extensive experience in Project Management and Sales.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Roger also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.