The Opposite of Micro-Management is Not Lassiez Faire
For my entire working life I have strived to not be the managers that I believed were micro-managers. I felt they would take my power, independence, creativity and ultimately energy and motivation for my job and work. I personally have never met anyone that loved to be micro-managed. Because I was scarred by working for these kinds of managers for much of my career I personally vowed not to be a micro-manager. I have had the great privilege and honor of being responsible for others as a people manager in a variety of capacities and organizations and have worked with . And for all that time I have worked tirelessly to be an empowering manager.
However, I think I swung the pendulum a little too far the other direction. In an effort to not be a micro-manager I started to trust blindly and give way too much space. It bit me in the butt several times until I finally learned there is a happy medium. You see, when I would "empower" I didn't validate and spend time building two critical components necessary to have effectively empowered teams: competence and clarity. Instead, I would just say, "you're empowered" (not literally, but basically) and take off on to the next team member to empower. But then the poor individual is left with mixed feelings of appreciation and motivation but also fear and anxiety as to what they should do next and how and why. I didn't do this because I didn't want to work, but because I was working so hard to be the opposite of what I came to so avidly believe in not doing or being.
Dave Marquet paints one of the best pictures of a highly effective leader that is neither a micro manager or lassiez faire that gives power to his team and full decision making authority but stays highly involved in the building of the teams' skills and clarity of the organizational as a whole. He detailed the story in his book Turn the Ship Around.
Marquet points out that its a lot harder to use what he calls, "leader-leader" model versus the "leader-follower" model. You see when you treat your team like leaders, with their own thinking brains, and give them the responsibility and ownership to make decisions, that requires a lot of conversation, trust, teaching, coaching and mentoring to help them fully develop the skills necessary to be successful in making those decisions. Simultaneously, you as the leader have to guide your team member to make a decision that is in the direction the organization needs to go.
It is much easier to take control and make decisions for others and its definitely easier to "empower" by giving all up all the control and stepping totally back. Unfortunately neither will produce remarkable results. With the first, your team and organization's capacity is limited to you and how much you can produce alone and in the other scenario, the team is left without the full guidance, skill building or mentorship needed to reach the next level.
Our job's as leaders is to give our people the trust and power to make decisions large and small to enable our organizations and people to reach their full potential. And we need to develop our people, work shoulder to shoulder with them to see what they are proud of, struggling with, scared about and help them through it. Not by making the decision for them, but by building skills, confidence and clarity to win.