Micromanagement vs. Shared Leadership: How to Build a More Effective Team



“He gets too involved and becomes the bottleneck.”

Imagine reading this feedback from your boss and subordinates come employee review time.

This is the exact review that “Steve” (not his real name), an executive featured in a Harvard Business Review micromanagement article by Muriel Maignan Wilkins, received from his own colleagues.

In Steve’s attempt to nitpick at details, he ended up slowing down the whole team’s progress.

The desire for “perfection” is a common tendency among micromanagers. In their bid to do things exactly the way they would have done it themselves, micromanagers spend more of their own time than it’s worth scrupulously directing their employees.

This, unfortunately, results in less than desirable results:

  • Slowing down progress is one micromanagement repercussion.
  • Employee morale is also greatly affected.

A study from the National Business Research Institute confirms micromanagement is one of the top 10 things that employees dislike most about employers.

Employees find the practice frustrating and demotivating. And if you’re a manager aiming for improved productivity and performance, a demoralized workforce is not likely to give you the stellar performance and attitude you want.

Instead of letting every decision depend on a central figure, a more efficient approach is to adopt a ‘“shared leadership” stance.

What is shared leadership?

According to Seven Principles AG management consultant Walid Farag, shared leadership is a modern way of leading teams, wherein authority is shared between a team of “leaders,” with the goal of maximizing “the use of all capabilities and ideas in the organization.”

Shared leadership is a collaborative type of management, with its own set of experts, sub-leaders, and informal leaders.

Although at first glance this model may seem complicated, there are examples of shared leadership already in actual practice, such as the division of authority between executives, where:

  • Financial management is under the authority of the Chief Financial Officer
  • Technology matters are under the Chief Technology Officer’s jurisdiction
  • Client and investor-facing issues are handled by the Head of Investor Relations
  • Other senior officers are in charge of various branches of expertise within the company

This can further be grouped into experts for each geographical region, all the way down to leaders per project team.

The benefits of shared leadership

With sub-leaders assigned to each department or team according to their fields of expertise, no one leader is tasked with the burden of trying and being good at managing all the various roles.

Instead, shared leadership encourages networking and synchronization among the various experts in the company. This method, through collaboration, improves the solution creation process, as it takes into account various experts’ standpoints.

Making shared leadership possible

  • Hire the right people

According to Eric Chester, an internationally renowned speaker and author on employee engagement, workplace culture, and emerging generation, “trust is the foundation of autonomy.”

When it comes right down to it, choose trustworthiness over skill. Choose the person you believe can be trusted to do what it takes to get the work done and done well, even without supervision, versus the person who already has the skills but whose reliability is questionable.

  • Train and encourage self-directed teams

According to an article by Dmitry Davydov of Bitrix24, research has shown that “self-directed teams produce higher levels of organizational effectiveness, better solutions, and increased levels of productivity and creativity.”

These “self-directed teams” should be composed of a group of people that have been thoroughly screened and trained to meet the company’s preferred qualities and goals, so much so that, in Davydov’s words, “the intrinsic motivators of autonomy, challenge, and purpose are built into the very heart of the team.”

With the company’s objectives embedded in them through rigorous training, they are able to function autonomously but remain synchronized under the company’s overall strategic vision.

  • Create a culture of accountability

Greater personal responsibility begets greater personal investment from the employee.

Not only that, if you spread accountability to the team, peer pressure kicks in and, according to Marcus Erb, a senior research partner and consultant with the Great Place to Work Institute, the motivation to perform becomes even more potent.

If you grant employees greater share of the decision-making power and hold them directly answerable to you and their peers for their work, it can drive them to invest more time and effort into their role, knowing that whatever the results will personally reflect on their performance as an employee and teammate.

  • Set clear expectations/goals and revisit them frequently

Provide the ultimate goals, the vision. The function of this vision is to keep everyone, despite varying expertise, on the same page. From there, further guidelines and tasks can be generated and implemented.

It is, as Wilkins suggests in the same HBR article linked above, about giving your team the “what” instead of the “how.” To sum it up perfectly in her words: “Articulate what you envision the final outcome to look like, but don’t give blow-by-blow instructions on how to get there.”

Final words

If you’re aiming for better productivity and performance within your organization, a micromanaged, frustrated, demoralized, and demotivated workforce is not what you want.

By delegating some of the decision-making responsibility and encouraging a culture of personal and peer accountability right down to the grass roots, you avoid making your employees feel like mere cogs in your grand schemes.

As Farag says, “more engaged employees feel more pride in the company and stay at their jobs longer.” Through shared leadership, you not only boost employee morale and minimize turnover, you also allow other talents to flourish under your watch.

In effect, while you benefit from your people’s varying expertise, you also liberate yourself from the costly burden of being everything to everyone.


Image credit: CC by Dwight Sipler

About the author: Hazel Mae Pan

Hazel Mae Pan works full-time for a financial publishing firm and freelances as a business/tech writer on the side.

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