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How to Turn Micromanagement Into Empowerment and Unlock True Employee Satisfaction Let's delve into the complexities of micromanagement, explore the underlying psychological factors and offer a roadmap to empower leaders, fostering autonomy, psychological safety and a strengths-based approach, ultimately leading to enhanced employee engagement and productivity.

By Dr. Kira Graves Edited by Kara McIntyre

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Every workplace mimics an ecosystem, each with its own share of wildlife. The employees scuttle busily in their cubicles; the boss prowls in the corner office, ideas fluttering around like exotic birds; and then there is the micromanager. He is neither a predator nor an endangered species but more of a formidable presence in many work habitats, actively casting a long shadow that can curb productivity, stifle creativity, and deflate employee engagement.

Yes, there is always the possibility of a micromanager evolving to become a better version of themselves. What if they could shed their stifling skin to reveal a more engaging and empowering leadership style? What if such a transformation, from micromanagement to empowerment, could unlock the secret to enhanced employee engagement?

Related: Why You Need to Stop Micromanaging Your Team and Learn to Let Go

An encounter with the micromanager

Micromanagement induces a collective shudder, more like a common cold. Picture this: a leader who is always involved in every minute of their team's activities, more like a microscope, seeing through every move they carry out. Yes, you've just visualized a micromanager, a creature as tenacious as a barnacle hanging on a ship's hull.

Admittedly, micromanagement is not entirely negative; the intention behind it often comes from a desire for control and excellence. It is like an overzealous gardener who tends every bud and leaf, fearing that neglecting even one might result in the downfall of their entire garden. However, in any dynamic modern workplace, this style of management can quickly turn out to be counterproductive. Why? Because a workplace is not merely a solitary plant, it is a diverse ecosystem of talents and minds that require room to flourish and grow.

When micromanagement is the order of the day, employees become more like puppets than self-motivated professionals. They lose their freedom to be creative, make decisions or feel ownership of their work, all of which are important aspects of a thriving work environment. The crux of the matter is that micromanagement is an outdated leadership style, more like a dial-up modem in the age of fiber optics. It is high time such leaders hit the upgrade button and adopt more empowering alternatives. But first, let us understand the deep-seated reasons behind micromanagement.

Unraveling the psyche of the micromanager

Micromanagement is more than an annoying leadership style or habit; it is a complex behavioral pattern embedded in various psychological processes. Let us venture into the labyrinth of the micromanager's psyche.

Uncertainty avoidance is a dimension of Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimension Theory that has an important role in the modus operandi of a micromanager. Individuals with high uncertainty avoidance prefer strict rules and dislike ambiguity, controls and regulations — sound familiar? It is more like an anxious traveler with a stringent itinerary plan, usually unwilling to leave any element of their trip to chance. Similarly, for a micromanager, every activity — no matter how irrelevant it is — is like a city on that itinerary.

This is not all; we can also delve into the realm of personality disorders. Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) presents itself among individuals as an inability to form secure attachments with others. Leaders with this disorder might prefer to take on tasks themselves rather than delegate because they do not trust their team. This is akin to a paranoid homeowner who will refuse to entrust even the care of their houseplants to a neighbor; instead, they would rather lug them along during their vacation.

Finally, there is a lesser-known phenomenon: hyper-responsibility. It is a term often used in discussions around obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), referring to an unusually heightened sense of responsibility meant to protect oneself against harm. In a work setting, hyper-responsibility manifests as a leader who takes on excessive responsibility to prevent the firm they are representing from experiencing mishaps, leading to a compulsive need to control every detail.

As discussed, micromanagement is a sophisticated analogy that denotes intricate psychological intricacies. Understanding them is the first thing one can do to transition from micromanagement to a more empowering leadership style.

Related: Micromanagement Is Murder: So Stop Killing Your Employees

The liberation from micromanagement: Journey towards empowerment

Now that we have deciphered the psyche of a micromanager, let us chart a proper route towards empowerment: a leadership style that not only boosts engagement and creativity but also overall employee satisfaction.

Coined by psychologists Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, self-determination theory underscores three important needs: autonomy, relatedness and competence. A micromanager can resort to nurturing their team or followers with these three aspects rather than controlling them. It is all about providing others with a safe space to bloom on their own without much external influence. Similarly, the psychological ownership theory suggests that when individuals feel a sense of ownership toward their work, their productivity and commitment surge. To visualize this, think of the difference between owning and renting a house. As an owner, the responsibility and pride you feel towards your property are significantly higher.

The transformation from micromanagement to empowerment is also concerned with cultivating a climate that fosters psychological safety in the workplace. It is a phenomenon conceptualized by Amy Edmondson from the Harvard Business School that further postulates that leaders should strive to promote a level of shared belief, making it safe for their teams to take risks and express themselves without fear of negative consequences. Empowering leaders also practice a strength-based approach, focusing more on leveraging their employees' capabilities than improving their weaknesses. This is more like a conductor in an orchestra, with the ability to comprehend and bring out the unique talent of each musician to create a harmonious symphony.

Related: How to Strike a Balance Between Micromanaging and Under-Managing


In the immortal words of Lao Tzu, "A leader is best when people barely know that they exist; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, "We did it ourselves." Leaders need to understand that empowerment isn't just a concept; it's a dance, an art form that sings, "I trust you. Let's soar together."

Dr. Kira Graves

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder & CEO of Kira Graves Consulting

Dr. Kira Graves is a Forbes List member, an executive coach, an entrepreneur and a psychologist specializing in the areas of business, consulting and education. She has a BA from Howard University, a Life/Work Coach certification from UCLA and a Ph.D. in Business Psychology.

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