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Here lies your colleague: Why micromanaging might be killing the entrepreneurial spirit

Updated: Mar 3

As I write this, my energetic, fiercely independent 3 year old is clambering on my lap. For a second I wonder how I ended up with such a 'spirited' child and then the realisation hits: he's a miniature version of me. Then the panic sets in as I remember what I was like as a teenager. To put it mildly: a handful. You see Isaac, like me, has an unwavering entrepreneurial spirit. Always questioning the status quo: how can we make this process run smoother, why are we doing this, what's the objective, why can't I eat chocolate for breakfast? For parents of a toddler that poses somewhat of a challenge (citation: asking Isaac to eat his vegetables), but for adults this is a skillset that every business needs in order to truly move the needle.

There are pros and cons to being entrepreneurial of course, and like all characteristics there is a spectrum. People who are too independent are not good team players, for example, but by and large an organisation that welcomes entrepreneurs opens themselves up to a growth mindset, flexibility and a willingness to take on new challenges. So what's the catch? Generally entrepreneurs don't like to be managed. That's the reason many don't tend to work in large organisations and set up their own businesses. However, it's more a question of management style, or to be specific, leaders versus micromanagers.

Many companies still hire middle managers who lack the interpersonal skills or the necessary training to be leaders. Instead of leading by example, facilitating smooth delivery of projects and supporting with team dynamics, many managers are far too focussed on minutiae and tasks. You can spot a micromanager a mile off: instead of asking you how you are and if there's anything they can support you with, they are asking about your deadlines. Micromanagers kill the entrepreneurial spirit. They kill the enthusiasm of a team, strip individuals of autonomy and make people feel worthless. Overbearing management creates an environment where people are afraid to share their ideas as it's not psychologically safe to do so. This isn't just a problem for entrepreneurial types like me, this is a problem for the whole team and a big problem for your organisation.

Let's get one thing clear though (and louder for those in the back), micromanaging isn't limited to middle managers. It could also be a colleague or it could be an over bearing partner or the parent of a toddler (sorry Isaac).

Remember this isn't about you, it's about them. It's often a reflection of their lack of trust or lack of confidence in their ability. It's a comfort to focus on details rather than focussing on the bigger (much scarier) picture.

So what can I do as an individual to shift the balance from overbearing managers to leaders? Celebrate good leadership publicly in meetings, via group email and through company reward systems. Anyone can show good leadership skills, make sure that budding leaders get the recognition they deserve. Lastly and importantly, callout micromanagement when you see it. Ask them to focus on the strategy or the desired outcome rather than the details.

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