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How Micromanagement Can Be the Death of Your BHAG

When you have started your own business and built it from the ground up, it’s normal to have a certain attachment to it and to feel like micromanagement is the only way to ensure things get done. After all, you know your company inside and out. You have a vision for it. You care about […]

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
4 min read
How Micromanagement Can Be the Death of Your BHAG

When you have started your own business and built it from the ground up, it’s normal to have a certain attachment to it and to feel like micromanagement is the only way to ensure things get done. After all, you know your company inside and out. You have a vision for it. You care about it and its success more than anyone else. You are also likely the one responsible for setting the business goals. With such passion behind the project, you will often have big dreams for your business.

These dreams easily translate into Big Hairy Audacious Goals, goals that will enable your business to set the pace in your industry, transform you into a thought leader, and lead you toward innovation and success.

However, there is a common pitfall that many business founders run into. They want to control everything. They know that they have the best intentions of anyone for the business, so they should lead the way. Unfortunately, this turns into micromanagement, and micromanagement can easily be the death of even the greatest BHAG.

Micromanagers: The Notorious Offenders

Being a micromanager doesn't mean you'll never find success. Two great examples of the ability to overcome this roadblock are Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. Both of these men have achieved incredible feats in business.

Jobs and Musk have shaped the car industry, the technology industry, the space industry, the financial industry, and many others. And it's not just limited to the industries they were involved in. Musk and Jobs changed the entire world—how we think, what we consume, and our expectations for innovation. But an interesting idea to consider is how they could have been even more impactful if they had given their teams greater freedom.

The dichotomy of Steve Jobs as a leader in different stages of his career, and in different businesses, is fascinating. Jobs was able to realize true success when he took a more hands-off approach and delegated duties to those who were more knowledgeable than him. Jobs saw frustration and failure, both, during his first stint with Apple and during his venture with NeXT Computer.

In both of these situations, he micromanaged to an extreme. He wanted to make every decision and precisely steer where the company was going. In contrast, while Jobs was micromanaging NeXT, he also founded Pixar. But with Pixar, he gave complete control to others.

Jobs chose the same method when he rejoined Apple. He allowed Tim Cook, Jony Ive, and others to do what they do best. This change in leadership style allowed Apple to move from being a struggling company to being the most valuable in the world.

Elon Musk is another extreme example of micromanagement. In fact, he even refers to himself as a nano-manager. He might be responsible for some of the world's biggest innovations, but in the process, his habit of micromanaging has caused projects to go way over budget, delayed production schedules, and left countless employees disgruntled.

Musk demands that every single detail is done his way. He's even known for setting up his office on the production floor so he can oversee every detail of a project. In addition, he has no problem clashing with and firing people who do not see eye-to-eye with him.

While Musk has managed to get away with this style, it is likely only due to the fact that he is such a brilliant and respected innovator. Other business founders do not have this “genius” reputation to rely upon. This begs one question: If Musk chipped away at this leadership style and allowed his team to utilize their intellect and creativity, what types of innovations could be achieved?

The Dangers of Micromanagement

Most individuals understand that micromanagement isn't an ideal leadership style. However, they don't quite understand the severe impact it can have on the bottom line. The real problem that micromanagement creates is disengagement.

If a workforce feels that they are just there to complete tasks and are given no leeway in how they complete them, they disengage. When employees aren't engaged they don't perform efficiently.

In a 10,000-person company, a disinterested staff can cost the company up to $600,000 a year in salaries or lost hours. When a leader refrains from micromanaging and actively engages the workforce, allowing for more freedom of how tasks are accomplished, they stand to see 12% more profitability and 18% more productivity.

Avoid Micromanaging and the Negative Impact It Can Have On a BHAG

Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.

The essence of a BHAG is a defined goal—the what. It is not, under any circumstances, the how of achieving that goal. General George S. Patton understood this, which is likely why he was able to achieve military goals that led the United States to a victory in World War II.

If leadership micromanages and attempts to define the how, creativity is killed and innovation is muted.

Unfortunately, micromanagers tend to be in self-denial about their tendencies. To judge whether you might be relying too much on micromanagement, here are some tell-tale signs:

  • If you want something done right, you feel the need to do it yourself.
  • In every meeting, you question every aspect of others' plans—their process, the work completed, and the future steps.
  • You have high employee attrition.
  • Everything requires your approval.
  • You would rather your team members keep to themselves and refrain from collaborating with one another or clients.
  • You always know what each team member is doing.
  • You are so detail-oriented that projects rarely are completed on time.

If you feel that some of these qualities align with your leadership style, be proactive about changing your habits. They don't serve your business, your team, or your BHAG well. To help you keep your micromanagement in check, here are a few tips:

  • Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS): Micromanagers are notorious for over-explaining things. This is just in an effort to maintain control. Cut down the directions you give. Only share the most essential information.
  • Calm Down With the Numbers: Micromanagers usually measure every single metric. Take a step back from this. Data only tells some of the story. Choose three or four metrics and stick to those.
  • Delegate: Start slow. Give out a few “test” tasks until you feel comfortable. Be available for guidance, but only on request. Show your team that you're okay with failure.

Micromanagement is poison to a BHAG. Make sure you are doing your best to avoid it. Through these efforts, you'll not only accomplish your BHAG, but you'll also position yourself as an industry innovator. To learn about how the law of BHAG can help establish you as a leader in your industry, check out how I and my team can help.

BlogCareerCulturebhagInnovationLeadershipinnovation managementkiller innovationmicromanagemicromanagement

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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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