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Yegor Bugayenko
22 September 2015

Are You a Micromanager?

Micromanagement, according to Wikipedia at the time of this writing, is "a management style whereby a manager closely observes or controls the work of subordinates or employees." Everyone knows micromanagement is evil, but what could be wrong with closely observing or controlling people's work? Nothing. Observing and controlling is not what's so bad about micromanagement. It is something completely different.

There are tons of articles about micromanagement. Most of them emphasize that the "micro" prefix prescribes the size of the tasks being managed, meaning a good manager doesn't care about the small stuff while a micromanager employs "excessive control or attention to details," as Merriam-Webster says.

It seems that in order to become a good manager, one should just stop paying attention to details. Huh? What could be worse than a manager who doesn't pay attention to details?

Micromanagement has nothing to do with the details observed or the amount of control a manager exerts over subordinates. Instead, it is all about how the details are observed and control is exercised. A micromanager gives instructions while a good manager defines goals and rules.

A micromanager defines algorithms for achieving results and insists on them being implemented according to his or her will. This is what a micromanager would sound like:

- Could you please stop what you're doing now
  and install Nginx on a new server? I beg you,
  don't do anything else until it's done.

This is how a good manager would delegate a similar task:

- Hey, the server with Nginx configured must
  be up and running by 6 p.m. I'm counting on you.

Pay attention to how polite our micromanager is and how rude the good manager is. However, it's obvious that the first one is extremely annoying while the second doesn't irritate us at all. Because it's all about how the task is defined—as an algorithm or as a goal with rules.

A micromanager treats me as a dumb executor of his or her will. A micromanager is imperative. A good manager, on the other hand, is declarative. A good manager declares what needs to be done, never telling me how I must achieve it.

By the way, there is—surprisingly—a lot in common between management and object-oriented programming :) Good object-oriented programming is also declarative, not imperative.

Thus, this "micro" prefix is not really about the size of the tasks a manager keeps under control. It is about what a manager wants to see inside them—a black box or a glass box under a microscope.

A good manager doesn't care about what I'm doing now, what tasks I'm working on, or what my plans, problems, and risks are. Instead, a good manager cares about my results, to a very specific level of details. A good manager pays extreme attention to defining quality standards for my work, clearly explaining expectations to me, and explicitly defining the rules of failure and success. A good manager makes the path ahead of me very clear. With a good manager, I know exactly what results are expected and what will happen if I fail or succeed.

Thus, to be a good manager, you should never tell your subordinates how to complete their tasks. Instead, you should define what solutions and results are expected. And, of course, what will happen in the case of success or failure.