Leadership Caffeine™-Give Your People Room to Run

Run OverOverheard: “If I don’t stay on top of my people, nothing gets done.”

If lousy leadership were a crime, the owner of the quote above might just merit a short stretch of quality alone-time to reflect on the implications of his statement.  There are so many things truly wrong with the style of leadership that the statement connotes, that I’m not certain where to start.

I regularly run into examples of leaders operating on the frontlines and even the top-lines that equate leading with policing and oversight. In sessions where I poll on the behaviors of great and lousy leaders, the horror stories of micro-managing bosses and inspector and critic style managers are so plentiful that it’s often difficult to rein in the discussions.

The perception that being boss involves constant policing has not yet been bred out of our culture.

There are certainly core issues that demand oversight. Issues of ethics, legal compliance, and discrimination all merit constant vigilance.  And maintaining appropriate operational control is absolutely a leader’s responsibility.   However, there’s a line that is crossed when the boss extends intense vigilance to the day-to-day and sometimes minute-to-minute work effort of team members. Move too close to this line or, cross it, and you guarantee a tense working atmosphere, a loss of initiative and a deficit of creativity. What should be a creative and productive experience becomes more like a prison experience.

Gaining compliance is not leading.  Any two-bit despot can gain compliance by inducing fear through excessive oversight.

In conversations with individuals describing leaders that they admire, commonly referenced behaviors are they exact opposite of the overbearing and over-the-shoulder manager:

Doesn’t micromanage me

Let’s me do my job

Asks me how she can help

Sets clear expectations and then lets me go

Doesn’t jump all over me when I make a mistake…but rather, he asks me what I learned.

We need more leaders that generate those types of comments from their team members.

11 Reminders that Your Job as a Leader is About Building, Not Guarding:

1. Focus on the working environment! You own the responsibility to create and sustain a positive working environment.  You cannot do that by micro-managing.

2. Create the right type of oversight by creating a culture of accountability for the values and norms in that environment.

3. You are a teacher. Teach and train. And then teach some more.

4. You are a coach. Observe and provide timely constructive AND positive feedback.  Everyday.

5. Be approachable, but don’t spend all of your own time approaching. Give your team room to run.

6. Create context, not confusion. Clarify and communicate. Create context for key organization strategies and goals.

7. Expectations and accountability drive performance. Set clear and challenging expectations for individual and team performance.  This is not micro-managing, it is good management.

8. Remember, you’re there to help, don’t hinder. Knock down obstacles and free your people to run.

9. Defend, don’t distract. Learn to shield team members from distractions. Keep your people free to run, part 2.

10. Stay out of the way. You are a distraction most of the time.  See the prior item.

11. Assert only when you need to. Don’t assert often.  If you have to assert often, review the prior 11 items.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

We’re all responsible for developing the next generation of leaders. Let’s get this right and help educate and train the micro-managing boss out of existence.

By |2016-10-22T17:11:48+00:00August 23rd, 2010|Career, Leadership|25 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. Gary S. Hart August 23, 2010 at 6:58 am - Reply

    Too bad bad leadership isn’t a minor violation, like a parking ticketing.

    Nice straight forward post Art. One could hang on their wall or as a sticky on their desktop.

    • Art Petty August 23, 2010 at 7:03 am - Reply

      Thanks, Gary! I can envision a range of violations from minor to felonious. And kudos to you for your great blog, “Salesdujour.”

  2. Tony King August 25, 2010 at 9:56 am - Reply

    Nothing wrong with these tried and true recommendations that have been around for a while. There’s a whole new dynamic that needs to be addressed however that includes hiring individuals that actually have have the kind of education and work ethic that goes along with this hands-off management style. Gen-Y’s generally speaking, feel that the world owes them a living and, trust me, no amount of hands-off techniques will change that.

    • Art Petty August 25, 2010 at 10:07 am - Reply

      Tony, I respectfully disagree with your generalization on the Gen-Y’s. That mistaken perception IMO comes from leaders (us) not working hard enough to teach, coach, provide feedback etc. This is our responsibility. -Art

  3. Travis August 25, 2010 at 10:33 am - Reply

    This sounds fine and dandy but what do you do, when you have employees that can’t do their job, don’t show up, are unreliable, not dependable? Fire them, you say and find better ones? I tried that. I own an electrical contracting business. Finding good electricians is difficult. All the good ones have moved on and started their own business or want $30/hour which I can’t pay. Does anybody have any smart ides how to guide employees in the contracting business?

    • Art Petty August 25, 2010 at 10:39 am - Reply

      Travis, that’s a very real headache, I’m certain. I’m not certain the micro-managing issue is germane…if you micro-manage them, would you gain longer-term employees w. better performance? Would love to hear from some readers on this. My own experience in working w. small business clients (not necessarily contractors) is that they solved the problem by consciously creating a culture…of making their place great to work at. The money has to be equitable…most humans want so much more….time, flexibility when they need it, growth, education and so forth. There’s more than one way to skin this one. Thanks for reading and commenting. -Art

  4. Travis August 25, 2010 at 10:48 am - Reply

    Hi, thanks for your input. I tell my employees all the time:
    Better Work Means more Money. Not , more money means better work.
    With other words, you show me your work can improve and I give you more money. They don’t seem to grasp that concept!

    • Art Petty August 25, 2010 at 10:57 am - Reply

      Don’t give up! Again for some, maybe money isn’t the sole or primary motivator. Let’s hope to hear from some in your field that have tackled this tough problem. Best, -Art

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  6. Middle Man August 25, 2010 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    I crave a leader that strives for these concepts. I’d become an electrician! 🙂

    Gen-Y = limitless potential once you find what that “instant gratification” button is.

    Art – another great post!

    • Art Petty August 25, 2010 at 5:09 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Middle Man! -Art

  7. Andrew McFarland August 26, 2010 at 6:45 am - Reply

    This article is a welcome counterpoint to one I read that said you need to beat your team about the head and shoulders. http://bit.ly/doBDxs

    Thanks for setting the record straight!

    • Art Petty August 26, 2010 at 6:48 am - Reply

      Thanks, Andrew. Let’s hope that style of leadership fades into oblivion. -Art

  8. Megan August 26, 2010 at 8:26 am - Reply

    I can’t agree more. Micro-managing creates ill will towards a ‘leader’, which (I hope) is not the goal of any manager striving to be a great manager. If you let people thrive, encourage it, and reward them when they do – you will see great things within a company. Great post.

    • Art Petty August 26, 2010 at 8:52 am - Reply

      Thanks, Megan. I agree on the ill-will. What the manager perceives as the right way to drive work turns out to be extremely destructive to credibility and the working environment. Thanks for reading and commenting! -Art

  9. Laura August 26, 2010 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Spot on! I always say that leaders need to Believe and LET GO! The more a leader can step out, the more others will step in. We train our people to not be accountable when we micromanage. If leaders would heed to this advice more, we would have more productivity in the workplace, and more engaged employees. Two things we most desperately need in this economy!

  10. Redge August 26, 2010 at 2:13 pm - Reply

    This is an excellent post. I can attest to the validity of these points through my personal management / leadership experience.

    It is absolutely amazing how much people can do when we actually let them go and do it! As one comment stated, this does require a certain talent pool to work with, however, resourcefulness is also another trait of a great leader.

    Thank you for sharing.

  11. Art Petty August 26, 2010 at 4:02 pm - Reply

    Laura and Redge, thanks so much for reading and commenting. Laura, I love your statement, “we train our people not to be accountable when we micromanage.” How true! Redge, I’m glad that your own experience supports the points here. Love the “resourceful” comment as well. -Art

  12. Ann August 27, 2010 at 11:50 pm - Reply

    I’ve worked for and with micro-managers. I find they spend the business hours managing the details of their employees tasks and then work many extra hours to accomplish their own jobs. The balance between work and life are severely skewed making the manger miserable. Your 11 reminders are spot on and I’ve experienced them working.

    • Art Petty August 28, 2010 at 6:31 am - Reply

      Thanks, Ann. Here’s hoping that you are done with the MMs! -Art

  13. Jeffrey Thomas August 29, 2010 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    Well said. In my short career I have had the opportunity to work for both types of managers. Managers who showed me a sense of trust and resposibility always seemed to get more out of me than others who were always looking over my shoulder to make sure I am doing my job correctly. Micro managing seems to make me second guess myself.

  14. […] score is Art Petty with Leadership Caffeine-Give Your People Room to Run posted at Management […]

  15. […] score is Art Petty with Leadership Caffeine-Give Your People Room to Run posted at Management […]

  16. Sylvester Jones September 18, 2010 at 11:46 am - Reply

    Excellent, straightforward post for effective leaders. Also great info for leadership speakers. Thanks for sharing.

  17. […] Petty‘s Leadership Caffiene – Give Your People Room To Run over at Management […]

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