Freedom from Micromanaging…

How to Trust Your Team

We’ve all been there. We’ve had the manager that hovers, that sends you three thousand emails to check to see if you did the thing they asked you to do. If you are at all like I was in those situations, I had a long to-do list, created a system of prioritization, and had demonstrated time and again that I could be trusted. However, this particular manager, let’s call them, Bob, just couldn’t let it go. I would wake up to find emails from them. “Have you done this yet?” “Have you done that yet?” It was excessive. I began to feel anxiety whenever I saw their name appear in my inbox. I did everything I could to manage up:

  1. Bob and I had weekly one on one’s. I would provide status updates during our time together;
  2. Bob often called me throughout the day. I would provide verbal status updates and walk Bob through the 50 other tasks I was managing, and other tasks I’d delegated to my team;
  3. At one point, I even wrote a weekly round-up to show what my team and I had accomplished during the week. This was in addition to a weekly task list that my team and I shared with Bob (showing everything we had planned).

Despite Bob’s mistrust and mismanagement, my team and I were superstars. We hit our key performance indicators. We were raising millions of dollars in the midst of a pandemic, hosting successful virtual events, and reaching more people than ever before through our events and communications. I was responsible for leading all this incredible work. This was not a case of underperforming. Even with all our successes, the micromanaging only grew.

If you’re beginning to see the lack of trust I felt, and the lack of trust my team felt, you’re beginning to see the problem. This scenario is even more nuanced when we introduce power dynamics. Bob was the CEO and I was a Director, many of the people on my team were coordinators. It gets even more complicated when we introduce race and ethnicity along with other social identities. Bob identified as white and wealthy. I identified as Black and middle class. Bob was married. I was a single mother of two young adults, with one in college. I’d always been conditioned into keeping a job at all costs, because I was the sole bread-winner of my family. Bob had a very different outlook.

Because I had been in the non-profit workplace for 15+ years at that point, because I was a leader, and because I’d really started to believe in myself and my value, and frankly, my need for respect and autonomy, I spoke candidly with Bob about my concerns. When I pointed out that I didn’t feel trusted, that I also felt that mistrust was unwarranted because of my successes, Bob was initially receptive. My glowing performance reviews speak for themselves.

Still, even though Bob said they were receptive, they would change for a hot minute then go right back to the pattern of micromanaging. When I spoke to Bob about what I began to perceive as bias, because other Directors who identified as white were extended more trust, Bob always deflected and denied but never changed their behavior. In the end, we parted ways. It wasn’t a fit.

However, after I left, Bob continued these patterns of behavior with other Directors of color and it spiraled from there. I am not at liberty to say what happened with Bob, but it is indicative of the real issue. If people with organizational power like CEOs and Executive Directors continue to mismanage and mistreat their staff, these harmful patterns will certainly catch up with them. I’m sharing this post because I believe there is another way. Here are a few things you can do to begin to trust your team, if you are indeed a micromanager:

  1. Listen to your team. If they say you’re micromanaging them, you probably are. Believe them. Then, do something about it. It has been proven time and again that micromanaging does not lead to more productivity. In fact, it may lead to less.
  2. Check in with yourself. You always know the truth. Where is the tendency to micromanage coming from? Do you feel pressure to deliver? Are you feeling that everything has to be perfect? Pinpoint what is happening within you and go from there to change it.
  3. Don’t send that email. If this is the 2nd, 10th, or 100th time you’re asking about the thing. Stop yourself from sending the email. Don’t text or call either. Take a few deep breaths instead and ask ‘is this extra communication necessary?’
  4. Create systems of accountability. There are so many amazing platforms out there that allow you to manage projects across teams and see the progress. Use one or more of these systems. It will make a huge difference. I personally love and use Asana, but there are others. Also, use your one on one times to ask for updates, to understand if there are barriers to completing the tasks. Let your team know you are there to support them, not micromanage them.
  5. Create agreements. This may be the place where you disclose that you can get a bit anxious about deadlines and deliverables. You can share that agreements help you understand how the person communicates and what each of you need to be productive together.

There’s more that can be done to build trust and confidence in your team. The ideas I’ve offered are starting points that will help you walk away from micromanaging altogether. Try on one or two of the above ideas. You can also book a free consultation with me. I’d love to support you in the trust-building process. Your team will thank you AND you’ll see the difference in your bottom line.

One on One time can support you in building trust.