How Great Leaders use a Mix of Micromanagement and Hands off Approaches
What are Micromanagement and Hands off Approaches and Their Pluses and Minuses
Management experts and leadership theory specialists are often divided on the exact proportion of micromanagement and hands off approaches that leaders must employ to succeed in their chosen organization or niche.
Micromanagement is defined as leaders monitoring and regulating each task or project right down to the nuts and bolts is contrasted with hands off approaches wherein leaders articulate the vision and then leave it to their subordinates to execute it and at the same time, monitor and regulate when required.
Indeed, micromanagement and hands off approaches have their own pluses and minuses and as we argue in this article, it is the judicious mix of both approaches that often make for great leadership and exemplary project management.
For instance, too much micromanagement can result in lack of autonomy and agency for the subordinates who might be demoralized and demotivated.
On the other hand, a laissez faire or hands off approach can lead to poor project execution and Knee Jerk responses in case something goes wrong.
Moreover, both these approaches work only when the leader and the subordinates are on the same page or in other words, the latter share the formers vision and sense of mission.
Excessive Micromanagement and Extreme Hands off Approaches among Indian PMs
Having said that, in recent years, there has been a tendency among leaders and project managers to micromanage to the extent that the subordinates often feel that they are mere pen pushers or file pushers with no real say in decision making.
For instance, the present Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, is a notorious micromanager who has centralized all decision making in the PMO or Prime Ministers Office leaving his Cabinet Ministers with little choice except to acquiesce in whatever decisions the PMO takes.
Moreover, Modi is also known to monitor each file to the granular level and this can lead to perceptions that he does not or would not care much for how much agency his ministers have.
On the other hand, his predecessor, Vajpayee, was known to hands off to the extent that the TIME Magazine published an article that wondered whether he was asleep at the wheel.
Thus, as the central argument of this article states, there are perils of being an extreme micromanager and a hands off leader.
This means that leaders must strike a balance between micromanagement and hands off approaches and intervene and interfere in the subordinates decision making process only when required and at the same time, must keep an eye on the goings on so that they do not lose control.
Which Approach Works in the Present Digital Age?
The question as to which approach is better acquires significance in the present Digital Age where new methodologies such as Agile where teams are self sustaining and modular and where leaders just need to set the overall direction and leave the nuts and bolts to the team members.
Moreover, new age firms are flat in so far as the absence of hierarchy and the creation of a network structure are concerned.
This leaves little scope for micromanagement and as the experiences of most Silicon Valley firms are concerned, micromanagement is a thing of the past.
For instance, both Sundar Pitchai of Google or Alphabet as the company is now known and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, are known to be highly hands off and set the overall direction and vision to the employees and intervene only when necessary.
In contrast, the late Steve Jobs was also a visionary but one who was obsessed with his creations to the extent that he would call up his subordinates on Sunday Mornings and inquire about the design and the fonts being used in the iPhone.
How to Employ the Right Mix of These Approaches
The key to using the right mix of these approaches is to create a decision making structure that would allow for autonomy and agency and at the same time, ensures that the subordinates do not take the leader for granted. Moreover, too much micromanagement can lead to over dependence on a leader which means that the organizations do not survive beyond the leader.
On the other hand, a too much hands off approach can lead to coup or putsch against the leader as the subordinates might gang up on him or she and the more ambitious among them might fancy the leaders chair.
For instance, this is what happened in the erstwhile Soviet Union where Mikhail Gorbachev tried to decentralize decision making and which ultimately led to his removal due to a armed rebellion lead by his subordinates.
Of course, the right mix or approach also depends on the charisma and personality of the leader. Indeed, even in India, the former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was perceived as being weak and ineffective to the extent that he was called an Accidental Prime Minister and though, he employed a mix of these approaches, he could not succeed in changing the perceptions as there were multiple power centres.
Thus, great leaders are those who can both lead by example and at the same time, remain aloof as and when required.
Moreover, leaders like Nehru who have the charisma and the stature and the personality can use either approach or a combination of approaches and rest assured that their decisions and interventions are apt and to the point along with the certainty that they would be obeyed.
To conclude, leadership and project management need a situational approach where depending on the exigencies of the situation, leaders can either micromanage or be hands off.
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