I think many times executives confuse the definition of “control.” When we do 360 interviews we are often told that an executive is a “control freak” or “too controlling,” but when we provide the executive the feedback received they have trouble understanding where the feedback comes from in terms of their behavior. In their mind they are completely empowering leaders, they provide ample room for their employees to make decisions and execute toward their goals.
They scratch their heads and think, but nothing comes to mind that resembles being a micro-manager, something that most will tell you they hate so they couldn’t be a micro-manager!
Trying to list all the examples of micromanagement would be too great a task (save we do not list them all), there are however some questions an executive can ask that will help them determine their level of inner “control freak” versus the desired label of an empowering leader.
1) How often do you end up redoing the work of your employees? If you find yourself doing or redoing the work of your employees because of quality problems or simply because it’s not the way you like it, then you need to stop and ask what message that sends to your employees.
2) Do you issue expectations or dictations? When you provide direction to your employees, how far do you go? Do you focus more on the results or on both the process and results? If it is the later, it doesn’t matter how empowering you think you are, if you take away their need to figure out how to best execute then you are simply leaving them to execute your way. Learn to set expectations and then ask questions to help your employees figure out how best to get where you want them to go.
3) Do your employees think your standards of performance are too high? If so, maybe they need to be that high, if so, then help your employees understand why. If you find yourself pausing to answer that question, then add one more question, what is the value tradeoff for achieving my high standards versus something a little less?
4) Do you give your employees answers or help them find their answers? Do you find it better just to give an employee what they need rather than take a few minutes to help them find it or figure it out themselves? If so then you likely have created an environment that is far less empowering than you think and one that is much more dependent (a form of control) than your employees need.
Being a control freak is not something that most of us relish, but when we really examine ourselves honestly, the truth can, and often does become obvious.
Here is a quick example:
A CEO finds himself in a situation where he has a significant conflict on his time commitments. He has two different programs that are going to launch at the same time and to do one and not the other would have a significant negative impact. He has a couple of different options, one is fairly simple – change the date of the rollout of one of the programs. The problem with that alternative is that there will still likely be an overall negative impact to revenue as the next open window for launch is not optimal in terms of anticipated demand.
The second option would mean no change to the timing, but instead would require that the CEO turn over one of the programs to a key executive and empower that executive to execute the plan they have all developed. The CEO decides to move one of the programs to a different launch window and rationalizes to his team that the demand and subsequently the revenue won’t be off by much. A consultant working with the company on the program design presented the CEO with the initial research (data) about the optimal launch windows the CEO again rationalizes that it won’t be as bad as the data says. When the consultant pushes on the CEO with a few more questions what he learned is that the CEO is simply not comfortable letting go of either program.
While the “control freak” in the CEO is not hidden very well to everyone else, it is to the CEO. Unfortunately the message he is sending to his team is that “he is the only one that can make sure it is done correctly” or that he at least feels the need to be there to make sure. Empowering leaders (others) requires letting go and then providing accountability.
So, how big is your inner “control freak” or better yet, how big do you think your employees believe it is? Have you confused the definition of control? It’s really pretty simple, just not easy!