Leadership is Not About Micromanagement

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Once, a million years ago, I worked for a museum leader who liked all the office shades pulled to the exact same length. Hilarious, right? In the aggregate I think we understood the building looked better from the outside, but beneath that idea was an undertone of “Really?” and also “What if I like a lot of light?” and a thousand other petty questions. What we learned over time though was that the shade thing was a metaphor for so much more. It symbolized a level of micromanagement that limited us in ways we probably couldn’t even articulate. I certainly couldn’t. It made us intellectually lazy. Why should we waste brain power when the boss would and could think of everything? And if he hadn’t thought of it, it probably wasn’t worth thinking about. At least not at work.

But what if you’re a museum leader and control matters to you? You have high standards. You’ve always been a planner. It’s your love language? Your partner says that if you had to, you could move tanks across the EU. And the little things really irk you. When you walk by the ticket desk and you see a random iced coffee, when you see the interpretive staff chatting with teachers instead of students, when no one seems to have followed up on changes for restroom signage. None of your micro corrections are a bad thing, right? The museum looks better, functions better, and hopefully there’s a better visitor experience. But ask yourself? Are you the only one who’s thinking about these things? Have you asked?

Good leadership isn’t about perfection and control so much as it’s about empowerment and place. In other words, painful though it may be, it’s not about you. It’s about your team and your museum. But my site is known for its beauty and serenity you say, and it can’t be beautiful or serene if staff don’t put up the correct signs, keep coffee cups out of the way, and not use the galleries for gossip. If I don’t micromanage it won’t happen. Maybe, but what if you talk about how the public sees your site? Maybe you’d learn that your staff doesn’t see it your way? Maybe your visitors don’t either. Maybe coming to consensus regarding your museum’s vision means consensus regarding how it’s carried out.

If you’re a leader who’s micromanaging….

  1. Start doing weekly self-check-ins. Try and figure out what’s driving you to control the small things.
  2. Meet with your team(s) for conversation rather than reviewing to-do lists and reminding them what wasn’t done. Get to know them.
  3. Re-read your museum’s vision and values.
  4. Listen before judging.

If you’re a staff member who works for a micromanager…

  1. Start doing weekly self-check-ins. Have you let deadlines slip? Are you the only person getting the micromanaging treatment or is it global?
  2. Step up and stay ahead of her needs. By anticipating her anxieties you may build trust and start to alleviate her nit picking.
  3. Don’t take it personally, particularly if her behavior is the same everywhere. This is not the moment to be Joan of Arc on your white horse. Lead from behind instead and keep it about the work.

The best leaders empower their staff. They give them the tools to get where they need to go, have their backs if they hop a guard rail, and support them when they cross the finish line.

Joan Baldwin

 

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One Comment on “Leadership is Not About Micromanagement”

  1. Great post! When managing a team it’s easy to get lost in the “it’s me” game and forget the point: its a TEAM. Thanks for the nice reminder.


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