Don’t Over- or Under-Supervise: 4 Steps to Getting Management Just Right

July 17, 2018 Joanne Maynard

“I don’t want to be a micromanager!”

I hear that statement all the time from my coaching clients. I get it—no one wants to be known as a boss who hovers over people and tells them what to do all the time. However, what I’ve noticed with some clients who desperately do not want to micromanage is that they often go to the other extreme and completely abdicate their leadership responsibilities.

So how does abdicating—which we also label as under-supervising—frustrate? Let’s look at one common example.

Under-supervision is most damaging when a leader says to a direct report who is unfamiliar with a task, “I know you will be fine. Just let me know when you’re done.” The direct report very likely won’t be able to do a task they haven’t been trained to do. Then, when the task becomes difficult or the person experiences some natural early failure, it’s normal for them to think, “My boss thinks I can do this. There must be something wrong with me!”

This begins a stream of negative self-talk, which can kill creativity. People in this state rarely give themselves permission to be a learner, to take risks, or to experiment with possible solutions. Isolation can also set in. People are often hesitant to reveal that they don’t know something—and are even less likely to do so if they think their boss expects them to know it.

Finally, forward motion is thwarted. When someone doesn’t know how to do something and doesn’t have anyone to guide them, they will often work on the tasks they do know how to do and set the other task aside. It appears to be human nature. I’ve witnessed people who are otherwise brilliant do this many times.

I’m convinced that abdicating behavior from a manager can be just as frustrating to a direct report as the dreaded micromanaging. The ideal balance would be to provide the right kind of leadership style depending on direct report’s development level on whatever task or goal they are working on. As Ken Blanchard says, a leader needs to “Slow down to go faster.” Here’s how it works:

  1. With your direct report, articulate the goal for any assigned work. Express what a good job would look like. And this is a vital step: have your direct report repeat back to you what they heard you say about the goal and the desired objective. This will ensure you are both on the same page.
  2. Next, ask the person how they would go about achieving the goal. And then really listen.
  3. If they list out what they would do and it sounds like a good plan, send them on their way with your blessing. Of course, always let them know you are there if they need anything along the way.
  4. On the other hand, if you hear “I’m not sure,” “I haven’t done this before,” or other statements of self-doubt, take it as a sign the person needs more supervision. Partner with them to create a plan for getting the job done—and be sure to check in with them regularly.

I always think using this style is like offering a thirsty person trekking through the desert some water. It’s giving them something they desperately need.

The hope is that a direct report who isn’t yet self-reliant on a task will grow and develop autonomy as they go forward. As the direct report develops competence and confidence doing the task, you, as the leader, can pull back on supervision.

Matching your leadership style to the specific needs of your direct reports will allow you to always correctly supervise versus under- or over-supervising. In this way, your leadership actions will always be just right!

About the Author

Joanne Maynard headshot.jpegJoanne Maynard is a senior coach with The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team.  Since 2000, Blanchard’s 130 coaches have worked with over 14,500 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services.

About the Author

Joanne Maynard

Joanne Maynard is a Senior Coach for The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is a frequent contributor to Blanchard’s LeaderChat blog. Joanne completed the Advanced Corporate Coaching program at Coach U, and received her Associate Certified Coach credential from International Coach Federation.

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