Some managers and leaders believe that expensive initiatives or complex strategies to improve team performance…
You may have heard the saying: people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers. More specifically, they leave micromanagers and absentee managers.
We call the practice of managers who have low, almost non-existent involvement in their team’s work absentee management.
In between absentee and micromanagement are those committed to thought partnership, the ones who empower, enable and encourage their teams to do the best work of their lives.
How can you determine where you fall on this spectrum so you can learn how to move in the right direction instead of being a micromanager or an absentee manager? (We want to emphasize that these are behaviors and not personality traits.)
To help you figure out when you’re being a good partner rather than slipping into micromanagement or absentee management, I’ve developed a simple chart. I hope it will help you better partner with the people who report to you.
One of the best ways to keep the people on your team engaged is by actively partnering with them.
The Absentee Manager
One of the most common mistakes bosses make is to ignore the people who are doing the best work because “they don’t need me” or “I don’t want to micromanage.” Ignoring somebody is a terrible way to build a relationship.
Some management bloviators will advise you simply to hire the right people and then leave them alone. Dick Costolo, Twitter’s CEO from 2010–2015, explained succinctly how crazy this advice is.
“That’s like saying, to have a good marriage, marry the right person and then avoid spending any time with them. Ridiculous, right?” he exclaimed.
“Imagine if I went home and told my wife, ‘I don’t want to micromanage you, so I’m not going to spend any time with you or the kids this year.’ ”
You’ll assign the wrong tasks to the wrong people. You’ll promote the wrong people. Also, if you ignore your top performers, you won’t give them the guidance they need.
Every minute you spend with somebody who does great work pays off in the team’s results much more than time spent with somebody who’s failing. Ignore these people and you won’t, in short, be managing.
No one wants to work for an absentee manager who makes it feel like there is no one in charge at all. In general, absentee managers don’t give guidance, aren’t open to receiving feedback and don’t assist their employees.
They also tend to lack curiosity about what their employees are doing. Even worse, they might not want to know at all.
A true absentee manager doesn’t want any details, which allows them to remain unaware of problems.
This means they often create more problems than they solve. Micromanagement is a form of bullying and micromanagers only see one way to do things — their way.
They lack curiosity, get lost in small details instead of seeing the big picture and often ask their employees to spend a lot of time updating them on their every move.
A micromanager tells employees how to solve problems with no real knowledge of the actual issues, then watches from a safe distance to avoid being burned in the explosion.
Reddit user PSinbad details their experience working for a micromanaging boss. “I noticed that as soon as she delegated a task [to me] less than two-to-three hours later she would be asking me questions about how I was working on it or offering up ways to do it. It seemed harmless at first but then she would essentially start doing part of the task or the whole task she delegated and then explaining to me how to do it next time.”
“Now, as someone who is fresh into a company working on multiple projects at a time, I expected a certain level of autonomy with the tasks given to me and in general, I think everyone has their own way of going about doing things.”
“I have never dealt with a situation where a senior delegates something to me and then within hours essentially finds that I am not doing it the ‘right way’ and starts doing it themselves or hovering over me as I learn ways to do the task.”
The Reddit user goes on to say that after six months of working this way, the stress of being micromanaged is beginning to affect their mental health and they want to leave their manager even though they like the company.
“I like the company, the job pays well, and honestly if I wasn’t working under her I feel I would be very happy with the role,” they wrote.
“But this situation is starting to affect my mental health and makes me dread signing into work some mornings as I know as soon as I jump on, she will be sitting there in my sheet just tearing everything apart and putting it back together in the way she prefers.”
While a lot of people are absentee or micromanagers, no one thinks they are either of these things. However, if you’re not doing what’s necessary to be a real partner, you are one of the former whether you like it or not.
When in doubt, refer to the chart at the top of this post. In fact, print it out and put it on our desk or somewhere you can see it.
In order to be a true thought partner with each of your employees you need to be involved, listen with the intent to understand versus respond and ask relevant questions.
If you want to be a kick-ass boss instead of having team members who want to kick your ass, work with your employees to set goals that make sense, actively listen to problems and help brainstorm solutions.
And remember, a true thought partnership is a team effort. What matters is how much your direct reports think of you as a thought partner. Actively solicit feedback from the people who work for you to make sure you are indeed practicing thought partnership versus micro or absentee management.
*This post was updated Jan. 6, 2023
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