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Micromanagement vs. Too Hands-Off: How to Find the Balance

By Paige Kassalen

At some point in our careers, we’ve probably felt what it is like to be micromanaged. As we move up into managerial and leadership roles, we promise ourselves that we will never be that person who tries to control every single detail of employees’ work… but then our promise gets tested.

Picture this scenario. You are asked to provide feedback on a team member’s work, and at a first glance, you have the urge to change the entire thing. Then you take a step back and wonder “do we need to rework this because it is truly needed, or do I just want it done MY way.” On the other hand, are your recommendations valid and necessary because your experience has taught you what is required to create a finished product?

For anyone trying to balance micromanagement versus being too hands-off, this is a predicament that is hard to navigate. You want to provide guidance to make the work better, but you don’t want to stifle creativity and ownership because you think the work should be done a certain way.

To find the balance between being a micromanager and being too hands-off, consider these three points:

1. Would you be comfortable with others knowing that you approved the work?

It is hard to know if you’re entering into micromanager territory when you give a lot of feedback on your team’s work. To combat this, I ask myself, “Would I be ok with someone saying that I approved this work?”

In managerial or leadership roles, we provide guidance based on a level of experience in a subject. It is our job to steer our team towards a certain level of execution and product output, almost like a filter that work must pass through before being considered complete.

There are times where someone executes a task completely differently from how you’d approach the problem, but it was well thought out with a solid output. In this case, you’d confidently stand by and defend the work, alongside your team members, because you agree with the results. Other times, you wouldn’t feel confident standing by the work unless you provided guidance and helped them make the changes needed for it to be a final product.

Asking yourself if you would be fine with others knowing that you approved the work will help you understand how deep you should dive into requesting changes. As long as you’re confident with the output, then you have done your job.

2. How important is this work effort?

We’ve all heard the saying “pick your battles.” This also relates to finding the balance between being a micromanager and being too hands-off.

When a task is important, it makes sense to be more involved in the work. If the task does not have as great of an impact, this is a good time to be hands-off. Not only do you not have time to be involved in every detail, but this also gives your team a break from constantly receiving feedback.

To understand the importance of the work, there are a few things to consider, like who is the audience, what is the reach, and what is the target outcome?

Understanding the level of importance for certain tasks is an easy, straightforward way to figure out the right balance between being a micromanager and being too hands-off.

3. Does your team member want your support?

Sometimes we try to be hands-off and let people execute on their own, but in reality, a lot of times our team members are looking for guidance and support.

I have been in many situations like this when starting a new job. My manager or project lead makes a strong effort to give me autonomy when kicking off a project. The problem is that in those situations, I needed more guidance than autonomy.

As a manager or project leader, it is always good to check in on the level of oversight you are giving to your team. Asking your team if they would like more guidance helps you quickly shift your leadership style if needed.

Remember that even though you are trying not to annoyingly micromanage someone, they might be looking for you to be more hands-on, and that’s not a bad thing.

As you move into a managerial and leadership role, you want to take the lessons learned from your own experiences, and be a manager that you would want to have. As you dive deeper into your responsibilities, you start to realize just how hard it is to navigate the balance between being a micromanager and being too hands-off.

When faced with this uncertainty, ask yourself if you’d be fine if someone said you approved the work, how important the work is, and how much support your team member would like. These three things will help make it easier to find the balance and be a great manager and leader.


Paige Kassalen

Paige Kassalen loves to put her creativity to use by solving problems in emerging technical fields, and has been an IEEE member since 2012. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech in 2015, Kassalen began her career with Covestro LLC. in 2015, and soon became the only American engineer working with Solar Impulse 2, the first solar-powered airplane to circumnavigate the globe. This role landed Kassalen a spot on the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list along with feature articles in Glamour, Fast Company and the Huffington Post. After Solar Impulse, Kassalen has helped Covestro and JPMorgan Chase develop and implement strategies to embrace a range of emerging technology trends from autonomous vehicles to machine learning. In 2020, Kassalen received a Master of Information Systems Management degree from Carnegie Mellon University and now uses her problem-solving skills at an artificial intelligence startup, CrowdAI, where she leads the implementation of computer vision solutions for existing commercial customers.

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