Are you Building Capacity or Micro-Managing Your Team Members?


Getting a promotion to a management position comes with both perks and challenges. The increase in income is always welcome, and shifting out of your comfort zone of competence is part of the transition as well.

One of my clients really struggled with Managers who had not shifted from a front-line perspective to leadership strategy thinking. The challenge was each time that a client was in crisis, a Manager would step in and work through the situation, not with her direct reports, but directly with the client.

This has a plethora of challenges with it. For one, it gave a strong message to front-line staff that they were not trusted to, nor seen as competent to work through the situation. Secondly, there was no opportunity to increase staff capacity for future situations that might arise. And, finally, her behaviour of taking over role modeled enabling vs. empowering others, thus creating dependency on her to fix any crisis.

When we dug deeper into the situation, we learned that this pattern of behaviour filled a need in this Manager that was not being met as part of her Manager’s role. She was a very skilled specialist at front-line crisis work and gained much satisfaction from assisting clients. Her long-term pattern of behaviour left her Director questioning if she was suitable as a Manager, or would be best to find work elsewhere with client work.

As individuals shift roles, with new and different responsibilities, it is equally important to shift their mindset! So if you have a manager who is struggling, it’s time to do the following:

  1. As an Executive Director or senior leader, ask yourself if you are engaging in micro-managing activities. Be thoroughly honest with yourself. It can be helpful to ask for direct feedback from your team members. If you get feedback that you are it’s time to review what is motivating you and shift your mindset. Working with a coach who specializes in leadership and team dynamics can be invaluable in this process.
  2. Once you have looked in your “own backyard”, it’s time to the take next step in the organization. Have a coaching meeting with the individual to help them to work through the impact of their behaviour. It is likely that they are blind to their behaviour and impact of it. This is your opportunity to build up their leadership capacity! Start by asking open-ended questions about what their hopes were from the situation. (Hint: every micro-manager that I have coached started out with a response like, ”I was saving time,” and the all famous, “I don’t have time to micro-manage”).
  3. Sample questions might include: How do you think your choice to do the direct line work impacted your direct reports? What message might they have received by observing you? (Hint: Look for both positive outcomes and challenges here). What needs in you did this fill? How might you increase capacity building the next time a similar situation arises?
  4. Be transparent with them. Let them know the challenges you had in switching roles and the steps that helped you in doing so. This will help to normalize their challenge. Then spend the time to explore the long term implications of micro-managing. It’s time to coach this person to build their leadership capacity.

Be a role model through your leadership style and coaching. This will build the capacity you desire in your managers and create leaders!