Micromanagers Create Macro Problems

Last Updated Nov 30, 2009 6:34 PM EST

Maniacal Micromanager Martha StewartMost people aren't born with the management gene. I certainly wasn't. I was overly reactive, disruptive, interruptive, and a whole bunch of other adjectives I'm not proud of. My first direct reports are probably still dealing with the trauma. In short, I was a micromanager.

Luckily, I had some good managers and mentors over the years. And while I'll probably be working on my "issues" until I die, I credit a good deal of my success with learning how not to be such a micromanager.

Don't get me wrong. Whether you're a small business owner or a manager in company, you can be successful as a micromanager. According to the Wall Street Journal, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner ordered stronger bulbs put in reading lights in Disney hotels. Former President Jimmy Carter personally reviewed requests for White House tennis courts. And Martha Stewart described herself as a "maniacal micromanager."

That said, in my experience, your odds of success are significantly reduced and, more importantly, you and your employees will be miserable. Many of the CEOs I've worked for were micromanagers, and in every case, that led to significant problems that stunted their careers and their company's success. The reasons are pretty straightforward and logical.
In general, their lack of trust, disruptive style, and extreme focus on minutiae resulted in tunnel vision, poor perspective, and lack of objectivity. In short, by paying too much attention to small stuff, they missed the big picture.

The result is that micromanagers simply don't scale well. In other words, they may have a brilliant vision that gets their business or company to a certain point, but their inability to empower others and drive decision making down to the appropriate organizational level keeps them and their company from growing past a certain point.

For example, a single-product company with a relatively narrow vision may not be able to grow to a multi-product company with a bigger and broader vision. Or the company will tend to react poorly and slowly to significant competitive or market changes. Inability to evolve with the market and effectively parry competitive thrusts will almost certainly stunt a company's growth.

On the flip-side, there are executives like HP CEO Mark Hurd who essentially turned the company around by streamlining the organization and empowering key executives to better execute on the company's growth businesses.

And, as we explored in The 10 Rules of Great Groups, even Apple's Steve Jobs - a superstar CEO in his own right - has, by all accounts, built a stellar management team capable of operating successfully during his recent extended absence.

Maybe that explains the underlying problem with micromanagers. I'm no shrink, but it seems that they may be overly narcissistic and insecure. As a result, perhaps they're incapable of envisioning their company or group operating without them. I could be wrong, but that sure sounds like a recipe for failure.