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Leadership Q&A

Drake, Kirsten DNP, RN, OCN, NEA-BC

doi: 10.1097/01.NUMA.0000512899.76048.42
Department: Leadership Q&A

Director, Med/Surg, Renal/Oncology Services, Texas Health Harris Methodist Fort Worth Hospital, Fort Worth, Tex.

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Are you a micromanager?

Q I'm a new nurse manager who asks my staff members numerous questions. Recently, I've been told that I'm a micromanager. What exactly is the definition of micromanagement?

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First, it's difficult to say whether you're a micromanager without further information about your specific situation. Merely asking questions doesn't make you a micromanager. Let's look at typical behaviors of leaders who exhibit micromanagement.

A micromanager is someone who gets into minutia with the employees they lead, including correcting tiny details when delegating a project, causing the perception of not letting them do their work without interference, and leading to an untrusting environment. Micromanagers also discourage others from making decisions without first consulting them, again exhibiting a lack of trust in the employee's ability to complete the task or project. This type of leader finds him- or herself resisting delegation or is heard saying, “I might as well do it myself.” Micromanagers may even take back a project they've delegated to finish it themselves.

Do these traits sound like you? If so, then you may be using a micromanagement leadership style. Micromanagement often occurs when there's a fear of failure. We may find ourselves using this leadership style when we're out of our element or engaging in a new role. As a new manager, you may be reverting to the comfort zone of your previous position, which may be construed by your staff members as micromanagement because you know more about your old duties than your current ones. Because you don't have to consult anyone to take action on tasks your employees should be performing, this can come across as a lack of trust in their abilities.

Don't worry, there are strategies that you can utilize to avoid micromanaging. First, look at the big picture. By not viewing problems or projects so narrowly, you can lead the team with your organization's vision in mind. The higher you are in an organization, the less control you really have of the actual work. This requires you to examine issues through different lenses, which may be uncomfortable. To ease this discomfort, you may be tempted to take a step back into your comfort zone, which can lead to slipping into control mode. Jump right to the mile-high view and you'll be surprised what you see.

Start small by delegating minor tasks that build trust in your team. After trust is established, you can move on to delegating larger tasks and projects. As a manager, you're moving away from the implementer and into the visionary role. Staff members will appreciate you empowering them to make decisions and, in turn, they'll be more successful with the projects delegated to them. Building your team's confidence will encourage them to take on more projects.

When delegating, focus on the what, not the how. Tell your staff members what you want them to accomplish, but don't instruct them on how to do the project. Have you ever had a boss say, “What I would do is...?” Avoid these types of statements. Cleary communicate the project's goal, including expected outcomes and a timeline for completion. Be careful not to have too many due dates at regular intervals because this will lead to you getting into the details of the project. If you already meet with your staff members on a regular basis, it's okay to add time on the agenda for project updates.

Reflect on your interactions with your team. Ask yourself, “Did I really add value with my involvement?” If your answer is no, consider what you could've done differently in the situation. Ask your peer group to provide feedback; they may not see you interacting with your employees, but they'll notice how you tell stories to them over coffee or lunch. Also seek out trusted staff members to provide feedback on your interactions with others. Self-awareness, although difficult, is one of your best assets in your new leader role.

Using the strategies outlined here will help you ensure success as you and your team embark on your leadership journey together. Good luck!

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