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The Difference Between Micro-Management and Leadership

Author: Lee Stevens

Published date: 2018/10

Blog Graphic Difference Between Micro Management Leadership

Being a manager is a difficult job. Whether you have a large team of direct reports or just a few, you still have to deal with various personality and learning types and you can’t always get it right. To have the best chance of success, it is important to develop your leadership skills rather than chase your tail with hands-on ‘micro-managing.’

Management skills can be applied to nearly every aspect of life, from running a household to operating a multi-million dollar business. Management as a function can be broken down into two categories: leadership (macro-management) and micro-management. While one may be more effective in a certain field than the other, nine times out of ten, leadership will come out on top.

As a manager, I feel a lot of pressure to walk that fine line between being a well-liked senior colleague, and the authority figure who gets the job done. The line between being a driven leader and a micro-manager is one that can get blurry from management standpoint.

When the buck stops with you, and your team hasn’t fulfilled their responsibilities or has neglected to reach targets, it can be infuriating and stressful. This is when managers are up until 10pm finishing or re-doing a project, or playing catch up and taking matters into their own hands. This is when the micro-managing tendencies kick in, and it does happen. But when you’re conscious of when you do this and what behaviours you need to emulate to become a better leader, you can start to minimise these occurrences.

Leaders Facilitate, Micro-Managers Hover

‘Facilitate’ has become a bit of a buzzword lately, similar to other words in my industry like ‘Revit’ (design software) or ‘flexibility,’ because it encapsulates the responsibility and accountability culture that many employers want for their organisations.

To facilitate efficiently, you need to work with your team member to review, discuss and then put a strategy in place to help them succeed. The strategy could be as simple as ‘make 5 more calls per day to cold clients,’ or it could be framing up their day and putting specific times in around accomplishing certain goals. On the other hand, a hovering manager will tend to take over and do the work for the individual, which does not allow for accountability and learning. The hovering manager is also one that doesn’t let the individual breathe, and is constantly at them about what they’re doing without allowing that person to work through their plan. Your job as a true leader is to provide guidance, advice and support, but be hands-off enough to allow that individual to succeed on their own terms.

Leaders Give Context, Micro-Managers Dictate

Recent studies have revealed that only 20% of employees reported having a line of sight between their job and their employers’ goals. Context is vital in motivation, engagement and even quality of work. When an employee sees how their work affects all of the other moving parts of the organisation, it creates a sense of pride and accountability around their own objectives, and a greater desire to succeed.

Besides compromising their ability to perform well, not knowing the bigger picture leads to disinterest. How can you get excited about something you know little to nothing about? 

Leaders Instil Accountability, Micro-Managers Control

It is imperative employees have an understanding of their own contribution within the organisation and that they feel a strong sense of responsibility for delivering in that role. Most employees are capable and ready to deliver (why else would you hire them?) but they might not have even been given the chance to meet expectations.

For true accountability to take effect, you must involve your team member in their own development from day one. From getting them to assist in formulating their targets, to helping develop the strategy that will get them there, having a say in their workflow will create a lot more buy-in. Then it’s your job as a leader to check in with them on a regular basis to help guide them through overcoming any challenges or roadblocks they encounter. It is not your job to solve their problem for them.

In reviewing my career to date, I would say previous managers who micro-managed me affected my overall morale and productivity by up to 50% compared to those who gave me the freedom to realise my own accountability. Yes I made mistake along the way, but I made sure I didn’t repeat them.

Leaders Delegate, Micro-Managers Create Bottlenecks

Micro-managers tend to head up every project, conversation and menial task within their reach, in order to appear in control and on top of things. Not only can one person not do this effectively, they can’t do it period. What inevitably happens is that the manager creates a bottleneck of work, placing roadblocks at all junctions. Then they find themselves under pressure to complete a million tasks while their team flounders with no direction or support.

Within my current team I have people with various skill sets I can lean on. I go to them for the tasks and projects that I feel they can do, but also the ones that will challenge them and give them accountability. As a leader, it’s so important to trust your team. How else can they develop and grow?

Leaders Inspire Discretionary Effort, Micro-Managers Create Stress

In summing up, we must pull on the term ‘discretionary effort’ because it’s the best indication of an engaged employee.

No one can be pressured into discretionary effort, which is what makes it such a strong indicator of true employee engagement. At the interview stage I look for certain signs of engagement and whether discretionary effort can be inspired. To see the potential for this, the employee must have a connection with the values and mission of the organisation to be guided in this way. While stress is a normal part of the business world, feeling inspired is and always has been a better motivator.

Stress happens when the manager does not take the time to get to know their team member on a deeper level, and understand what drives and motivates them. They simply pile on the targets and (often unrealistic) completion timeframes, do not provide any guidance or support, and do not individualise the reward mechanism. Your team member will be de-motivated and productivity will dip, and they will be under even more pressure to get their work done. Stressful!

In Review

The differences between micro-managers and leaders might seem subtle. However, the outcome of these different management styles is obvious. It can be hard to let go and trust in a worker’s ability to get the job done without looking over shoulders, especially when at the end of the day it all comes back to you. Let’s change the focus from getting the job done, to facilitating, training, leading and supporting your team to do it on their own.


Lee Stevens is a seasoned leader and Senior Manager at Fetch, responsible for the Architecture, Interior Design, Construction, Business Support & Property teams. You can connect with Lee on LinkedIn here.

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