Why You Over-Manage, Under-Manage, and Sometimes Do Both

Let’s face it, when you delegate, the buck still stops with you. You’re still accountable for any screw-ups. When the stakes are high, no wonder you think you need to be front and center, to direct things and over-manage.

Even when the stakes aren’t high, sometimes it’s just easier to do it yourself than take the time to explain it, especially when it’s difficult for them to understand what you want.

And to be honest, it can be more fun and interesting to roll up your sleeves and run the show than to deal with strategy, capacity building, and other big picture issues where it’s not so easy to see the results of your efforts.

But watching everyone so closely can wear you out. It’s simply not possible to consistently be involved in everything that’s happening. There are other demands on your time, and there aren’t enough hours in the day. There are times they simply have do their jobs without you.

So you back off. But inevitably something goes wrong. And you are forced to step back in.

You are trapped on a see-saw. You over-manage, under-manage, and sometimes do both.

The problem is… you’re driving your team nuts.

– They’re frustrated because they never know when you’re going to swoop in and change things.
– They are waiting for you to provide information or make a decision and projects get stalled.
– They’re afraid to make a decision because you might not approve.
– They’ve lost confidence in their own judgment.
– They’ve stopped thinking because they’ve grown dependent on you to think for them.
– They’re dreaming of working somewhere else.

They might like you, but they don’t like working for you.

Break out of the trap by getting off the seesaw.

Stop thinking like a parent, and treat your team like the adults they are. They’ve been passengers in your car. Stop thinking of it as your car, let them drive, and don’t be a backseat driver.

Find out what they need from you to complete the job. Ask and listen. Share your own thoughts, and then decide together where you’ll be involved and how.

Your job is to make sure they have the resources they need, to provide the information they need, and to be available when they need your help or advice. Often they simply need you to be a sounding board. When you ask questions instead of giving answers, you help them develop their ability to solve problems without being dependent on you.

What if they make a mistake? Well, you can count on that. Mistakes will be made.

So instead of blaming them and using it as an excuse to step back in, consider it an investment in their education. If you debrief mistakes without judgment, they won’t become defensive and will be able to learn. If you act as a sounding board, they can figure out how to address the problem themselves.

Are the stakes high? That’s when you need your team more than ever to be able to lock arms and figure out how to deliver. They can never learn to do that when you stay in the middle orchestrating their moves.

So what do you do with your time if you’re not involved in all the details of your team? You might feel uncomfortable at first, but if you hang in there, you will discover there’s much more important stuff for you to do than spending your time doing your team’s jobs.

By Jesse Lyn Stoner