#50 Is Micromanagement About Power?

by Steven Cerri on March 27, 2008

Do engineers really care about power?

Hello everyone!

I wanted to spend one more blog (maybe two) on the topic of micromanagement,

I listened to a teleseminar a few weeks back. The teleseminar was marketed as a presentation on how to manage engineers, how to manage “geeks” (the presenters’ term). The purpose of the teleseminar was to convey the idea that managing engineers was a unique enterprise and one that was different from managing other types of direct reports.

Right off the bat, the ideas being presented in the teleseminar didn’t ring true with me. The presenters’ first important message was completely off the mark as far as I was concerned. He said (I paraphrase only a little)…

“Technical people aren’t interested in power.” One of the important considerations he stated, was that “…since engineers aren’t interested in power, they can’t be influenced by the typical forms of power”.

Well, not only do I consider this statement incorrect, but I believe the issue of power is at the core of why engineers are so sensitive to being micromanaged. Micromanagement is all about power. The manager who is micromanaging (using management oversight that is excessive) and the direct report who is resisting being micromanaged (feeling over-controlled) are both dealing with their issues of power. Power is at the core of micromanagement, either the exercise of power or the resistance of that power.

As a manager, the key to avoiding being a micromanager is to diffuse the power play between you and your direct report.

If you are a direct report, and you want to avoid being micromanaged, the key is to diffuse the power play between you and your manager.

The only way to diffuse power is to communicate in a way that builds a relationship of trust between the manager and the direct report. There just isn’t any other way.

I’ve never been accused of micromanaging any of my direct reports. That’s because I never got into a power play with them. I just didn’t let the power issues take hold, and as I said, the way to avoid being a micromanager or being micromanaged is through communication.

So what is the best way to think about avoiding being a micromanager or being micromanaged. Most people, managers, trainers, consultants, coaches will use the words I’ve used in this blog. They’ll tell you that you must build trust and diffuse any power plays. But what exactly does that mean? How do you know you’ve diffused any power issues? How do you build trust exactly?

One answer you’ll hear is that you should build trust by delivering what you say you will deliver when you say you are going to deliver it. So let me get this straight… you can avoid being micromanaged by building trust, but you have to be micromanaged until you’ve built that trust. So every time you change managers you have to go through the same period of micromanagement as you are building the trust needed to avoid being micromanaged. Sounds like a chicken-and-egg kind of thing to me.

There is a better way. I don’t even focus on trust. I don’t even focus on power issues. It’s all in the structuring of the relationship between the manager and the direct report. There is a very clear, concise, and effective conversation and management structure that will completely eliminate any concerns about micromanagement. Micromanagement just doesn’t come up.

More on this in the next blog. (Yes I will devote one more.)

Be well,

Steven Cerri

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