Sept. 19, 2022

Why Do We Micromanage? (Challenge #33)

Why Do We Micromanage? (Challenge #33)
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Are you a micromanager? I know all too well what being a micromanager entails, and where it comes from: a lack of trust.

 Micromanaging can have detrimental effects, like burnout, loss of connection, and living in a state of undue stress. If you are a micromanager, ask yourself this, how would it feel if you let go of control and allowed others to manage themselves?

This thought may make you anxious, but bare with us. Giving up control can actually be a good thing! Not only does it teach trust and helps you move out of fear, allowing others to take ownership of their work can elevate the overall quality of work. Instead of you trying to do everything, spreading yourself thin, allowing others to focus on a task that they’re good at while you do the same is a win win for everyone involved.

 So, how do you stop micromanaging to create freedom for yourself? This is what we will be discussing in today’s episode where Sarah will take you through practical steps you can take to identify the issues and implement a solution.

 Tune in to hear how you can increase your trust and decrease your micromanagement! 


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This episode was produced byPodcast Boutique.


My name is Sarah, and I’m a micromanager. I think it’s been about two months since I last seriously fell off the wagon, but you’d really have to ask my team, as I’m usually the last one to spot it.

I’m joking a little bit here with the 12 step group riff, but it’s in service of a bigger point. Every leader (perhaps every human?) micromanages other people from time to time. We can and should learn to control it, but if any leader has figured out how to stop micromanaging once and for all, I’ve never met them. 

And that got me thinking. Since I think very few leaders wake up in the morning with the intention to micromanage, why do we do it? And could a better understanding of those reasons help us micromanage less? Let’s find out today.


Welcome to the Kind Leadership Challenge, where I empower educational and library leaders like you to build a better world! I’m Sarah Clark, founder of the Kind Leadership Guild. My PhD in higher ed Leadership, my experience coaching, consulting, and presenting to library leaders all over the world, and a career working in academic libraries from the front desk to the Dean’s office taught me that leaders can transform their organizations without burning out. And now I’m sharing those same lessons with you.  

Over the next ten minutes or so, I'll share short stories and simple challenges designed to heal yourself and your school or library, so you can get back to making the impact you wish to see in your communities. By embarking on each week’s challenge on your own or in our private community, you and your team will begin growing humanely, managing effectively, and creating collaboratively, so you can build the more informed and educated world we all need.


Looking back at the long and rather embarrassing list of times I’ve behaved like an insufferable control freak, the common thread seems pretty clear. Micromanagement ultimately comes from a lack of trust. My lack of trust is almost always rooted in one of three things--lack of trust in myself, our processes, or the other people involved. 

Let’s start with an example of a time I didn’t trust myself—it was almost five years ago, when I first came to my current university to take on my first role as a library dean. You can hear the whole sordid tale in episode zero, but the short version is this: Before I was at my university even a month, I had developed a whopping case of imposter syndrome, and had concluded that I desperately needed to work my butt off and get deeply involved in every aspect of library operations to “earn my place”. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t end well. And a large part of digging out of that hole was re-learning to trust myself.

The second area where micromanaging leaders lack trust is often rooted in perceived weaknesses of processes and procedures. My recent experiment with delegating podcast editing is a great example of this. I knew the couple of hours a week I spent editing my podcast, creating the shownotes and little video clips you see on social media, and all the other technical stuff could be better spent in my zone of genius. But I wanted to make sure the structure and flow of my typical episode was well-constructed and easy to follow before I handed things off to my new editors. So I fussed and experimented and dithered for at least a month longer than I probably needed to before I finally took a deep breath and handed off my baby to the great editing team at the Grow the Show Accelerator. My editors promptly informed me that my processes and systems were better designed than the vast majority of the shows they work with. And yet, they’ve added their own touches and expertise, and made the show so much better than I ever could have! So Thanks Max, Ahmet, Sonia, and Will, and if I’m ever micromanaging you, PLEASE let me know. 😉

 Which leads me to a third example of micromanagement, when the problem was a lack of trust in other people. As I mentioned back in episode 12, as one of my hobbies I co-host a podcast about the Monkees. Early on, I became the head moderator on the facebook group. It was a tight-knit, silly group of superfans in those early days, but although we did lay down and enforce a few ground rules. The place pretty much ran itself. Until 2016, when the Monkees’ record label capitalized on the 50th anniversary of the band with a major tour, a re-release of the TV show on Blu-Ray, and last but not least their first new album since the Clinton Administration. And with the new activity came an onslaught of new podcast listeners and new group members. If memory serves we started the year around 1000 members, and by the end it was more like 5,000. And it didn’t help that I was preparing to defend my Dissertation the same month the album dropped. So I kind of freaked out, because as the moderator, I had to make sure all these new members felt welcome and followed our rules. As in any online community, 95% of them were wonderful, but about 4% were well-intentioned but disruptive, and the other 1% were outright trolls. And I didn’t really trust any of them yet. So that spring of 2016 was really kind of a blur of dissertation edits and moderating surprisingly heated conversations about the quality or lack thereof of some new action figures of the band. (don’t ask.) But at some point, shortly after I defended the dissertation and The Monkees had their first top 20 album release since the JOHNSON administration, I collapsed. For three months I watched all the tv I’d missed during my PhD, rediscovered knitting, rediscovered 8 hours of sleep, and with another moderator having joined the team, I pretty much left the facebook group to its own devices unless someone reported a post or comment. And…it all turned out fine! The worst case scenario was a few times some trolls got to squabble for a few hours longer before we squashed them. It turned out that I could trust our community way more than I knrew, and so I did. In fact, I maintain that much more hands-off approach with our kind, silly community to this very day. 

These three ways in which mistrust leads to micromanagement match up with the three core skills of kind leadership: Growing Humanely, Managing Effectively, and Creating collaboratively. What an unbelievable coincidence! If you need an objective but supportive coach to help you increase your trust and decrease your micromanaging in these three areas, I’m just a free 45 minute call away. We can talk about your challenge, brainstorm some possible solutions, and you can learn more about whether ongoing coaching would help you more effectively, humanely, and collaboratively make the impact you wish to see. 

But first, I want you to try this week’s challenge. In each of those three cases, my lack of trust was signalled with nervousness. A feeling in the pit of my tummy or a tightness in my chest that something was not quite enough. If you’re feeling that twinge, it’s time to get curious about it. Ask yourself some questions:

1.       What are you feeling physically? Describe it in detail.

2.       Do you feel like some emotions need to be processed, with freewriting or talking to a trusted advisor or a good old fashioned primal scream? If so, do it. a couple times if necessary.

3.       Let’s shift from comfort to solutions. Now that you’ve processed the emotions, do you still believe there’s a problem?

4.       If yes, then define the problem. As appropriate, get advice from other people involved about possible solutions!

5.       Implement the the solution, or even better, empower your team to implement it.

6.       Evaluate and repeat as necessary.


Thanks for listening and for taking action to become a kinder leader. If you found this week’s episode insightful, give the show a rating or review—or even better, share this episode with your fellow leaders!  Never doubt that day by day, you’re building a better world, even if you can't see it yet. So until next time, stay kind now.   

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