Breaking the Tyranny of Micromanaging

What does it feel like to be micromanaged?

This was a question I asked a group of senior leaders from a Saudi-based energy company in our masterclass last week.


‘Undermines your confidence’


‘Shows a lack of trust’

These were some of the answers they shared. And I get it.

When we are micromanaged it can feel like an insult; an insult to our experience, an insult to our expertise and an insult to our integrity and ability deliver what’s needed from us. It’s not surprising that research shows that being micromanaged negatively impacts performance, innovation, teamwork and individual health and wellbeing.

So why do we feel the need to micromanage?

Micromanaging comes from a need for control. It is based in fear and driven by a desire to feel higher levels of safety.

Micromanaging is also a common response that I see from leaders when they feel team members aren’t stepping into accountability in the way they believe is needed. And so to fill the gap (and increase feelings of safety) they begin to micromanage.

But there is another, more effective way to fill the accountability gap: to be crystal clear about expectations. Clarity precedes action – once we are clear and agreed on what needs to happen, we can get on with doing it more effectively

Sounds simple right?

Unfortunately, my experience tells me – as I’m sure yours does too – it’s often not that straightforward.  Issues with accountability are holding leaders, teams and organisations back. They limit progress, fuel underperformance, and make us fragile as we navigate the uncertainty and disruption of a COVID-impacted world of work. Research suggests that accountability is fuelled by two factors, and as I work with leaders across business, education, government and not-for-profit organisations, I see the same.

They are:

  1. The Quality of Accountability Relationships
  2. The Clarity of Accountability Expectations

I wrote about the Quality of Accountability Relationships in this blog recently, so let’s take a closer look at the clarity of Accountability Expectations.

Clarity Of Expectations: From Confused To Clear

When accountability expectations are confused, any one or more of the why, how, what, who, when or so what factors may be unclear. Whilst confusion in any one factor will have a slightly different impact, the overall effect is the same – more stress, drama and waste, and less progress, engagement and performance.

When accountability expectations are clear, people understand why they are doing the work and how it fits into a ‘bigger picture’; what exactly needs to be done and by whom; when it needs to be done by and what the consequences are if it isn’t – for them and the wider context. They also need to know what the progress markers are and how these will be reported and reviewed. This level of clarity provides a sense of safety and control, which means people feel confident in what they are being asked to deliver.

Here are two things you can do today to help create clear accountability expectations:

  • Be explicit – clarity can help remove the need for micro-managing. Establish the what, how, why, who and when by asking: ‘What does success look like?’  ‘How will you achieve the desired outcome?’  ‘What timeframe will you work towards?’  ‘Whose help or support do you need?’ ‘What do you care enough to own?’  ‘Is this aligned with the team and organization’s goals and resources?’
    Getting clear on this from the start, or if the project is underway, having an ‘expectations alignment’ conversation, sets a pathway for success in the future.
  • Measure progress – agree on how progress will be measured on both learning and performance goals. It’s normal for people’s commitment to ebb and flow as they run into obstacles and setbacks. Quick, regular check-ins on the progress being made is an effective way for your people to maintain their accountability and identify issues early. It will also help recovering micro-managers feel connected to what is happening on the ground.

These set up and check-in conversations take time and a level of investment from everyone involved to be effective. When they are, the result is less stress, less waste and less frustration as levels of motivation, autonomy and confidence rise.

Want more?

You can read more about how to take a more effective approach to accountability in the e-book I’ve written based on my research, The Accountability Reset.  Just click here to download it.

Time to talk?

If you’d like to talk about how we can work together to help you, your leadership team or your organisation reduce fragility by resetting accountability. Simply click here and I’ll be in touch.

Dr Paige Williams

Dr Paige Williams

International Speaker, Author, Mentor


Determined to help leaders move beyond just the need for resilience, Paige provides practical, evidence-based strategies for leaders to become antifragile, lead themselves and their teams to thrive and succeed in the Decade of Disruption.

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