Micromanagement Leads To Mismanagement

Dec. 21, 2004

In my career I have had to tolerate a chief executive who was a bully. I was forced to accommodate a chief executive who was a caretaker. I had to adjust to a chief executive with a big ego. I had to abide a chief executive who took credit for my ideas. But I was never able to tolerate, accommodate, adjust to, or abide a chief executive who was a micromanager. Micromanagers make up for their total lack of imagination by deflating ideas and creating chaos over minutiae. They see all things in black and white. They manage by the numbers, and any number in red turns them into raging bulls. They include former chief financial officers who lacked the personalities to become actuaries, defrocked certified public accountants looking for new ways to change their luck, and business-school graduates who think they know it all. Micromanagers manage with rules, ratios, percentages, matrixes, formulas, guidelines, models, and straitjacket budgets. They are control freaks whose tools are pronouncements, policies, demands, and dictums. They manage by memorandum. The more I think about micromanagers, the less I think of them. They expect you to deliver successes, but their interference assures failures. They approve your projects and then withhold the dollar and people resources you need to accomplish them. They read your proposals, tell you to develop your prototype, and then insist on telling you how to do it. They have a unique characteristic that stimulates their best people to seek employment elsewhere. To put my feelings about micromanagers in perspective, let me state it simply: If it is true that we all spring from monkeys, micromanagers had the misfortune of not springing far enough. Mr. X, a devout micromanager, invited me and some other chief executives to a think-tank meeting at a resort location. Mr. X was "Mr. Numbers" to his executives. He had a formula for every management occasion. One of Mr. Xs vice presidents was taking snapshots of the folks around the pool. An obese gentleman jumped off the diving board and showered her with a huge splash. Distracted, she accidentally dropped her camera into the deep end of the pool. Without hesitation, she called out to Mr. X to retrieve her camera. Mr. X told her that he was flattered that she asked. But before he dived in, he wanted to know why she chose him rather than one of the younger physical specimens at poolside. She replied, "Mr. X, I have listened to your speeches and read your memos. I know from personal experience that you can go down deeper, stay down longer, take more people down with you, and come up drier than any chief executive I know." How do you recognize Mr. Xs when you see them? Here are a few dead giveaways. They refuse to accept personal responsibility or accountability. They always have a scapegoat to blame. They rarely develop people; they exploit them. They rarely hire people with the talent, experience, and know-how to challenge them. They dont like competition. They prefer to control results rather than inspire creativity. They manage all employees the same way, regardless of their differences and talents. They tend to dumb-down their companies. In a company in which the chief executive is the only one allowed to think, nobody else dares to think. To make things worse, they create the problems they micromanage. A continuous regurgitation of rules, ratios, and restrictions is not leadership -- its gamesmanship. Leadership inspires freedom, not serfdom. Employees must be free to think, to talk, to act, to suggest, to solve, to invent, to dare, and even to err. No one is really managing a company successfully by shuffling numbers. Anyone can draw new organizational charts. Anyone can recite business-school maxims, ratios, formulas, and percentages. It takes a leader to manage people -- and skilled people to make a successful company. Even football coaches who call all plays from the sidelines allow their quarterbacks the freedom to change the play at the line of scrimmage. Why shouldnt chief executives?

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