Afraid of Being Labeled a Micromanager? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

My company offers a lot of classes, and about six months ago I learned SLII®. I have been managing people for about a decade and honestly, learning SLII® changed everything for me. I realized my biggest issue was that I hold back when it comes to giving people crystal clear direction or providing close oversight when people are starting a new task or embarking on a goal that is new to them.

Early in my career, I read a lot about the horrors of micromanagement—and I have always hated being micromanaged myself—so I think I have often over-corrected to avoid ever being accused of it. But now in hindsight, I see that caused any number of problems.

Here is my situation: I work from home a couple days a week, and quite recently my husband got a new job which allows him to do the same. The other day, he was walking by my office and overheard a conversation I was having with a new hire. We hired this person specifically to have someone tackle a massive technical job that has been backlogged for a long time. It is critical that the job be done in a way that doesn’t mess up a bunch of other systems. So I have been using a Style 1 with her—giving her very clear direction and giving her daily checklists for practicing in a demo system before I let her loose on the real thing. She is picking it up very fast, but the system was custom built for our company, so she has never worked in it.

Later in the day, my husband casually remarked that I am “really bossy.” He was kind of teasing me, but it threw me for a loop. I tried to explain that the person I was speaking to is new and really needs the clarity I was trying to give her.

I am now back in the uncertainty and fear of all the negative things that come with the word bossy. We had a joke about Bossy Cow in our house when our kids were little, but I am not laughing.

Am I a—

Bossy Cow?


Dear Bossy Cow,

Oh, my dear, I hear your pain and confusion.

Before we dive in, I just want to provide a little context about SLII® and what Style 1 means. SLII® is a leadership model that helps managers offer their team member the best mix of clear direction and support as they tackle a specific task, depending on their mix of competence and confidence on that task. In that context, a Style One (or S1), means giving clear directions and painting a picture of what a good job looks like—with step-by-step instruction, if needed. For a deeper dive on this, here is an e-book that will provide more detail for those who want it.

Okay my friend, I will not call you Bossy Cow, because you are not one. What you are is someone who is clearly setting your new employee up to crush it. You are, in short, someone who is doing her job.

Please forgive me for succumbing to my own frustration around gender stereotyping and bias that tends to be a sore spot for many women. There is a meme that’s been around forever that points out that when little boys boss people around they are showing leadership ability, but when little girls do it, they are just bossy. It is so tiresome. And you know what? I think your husband could have inadvertently poked at that sore spot. This may not even be true for you, but now I have gotten it out of my system so I can move on.

Part of what causes burnout or apathy for people in organizations is when they don’t really know what is expected of them at work, or aren’t getting enough feedback to know whether they are doing a good enough job or how to get better.

One recent study found that only 45% of younger workers (those under 35) clearly know what is expected of them at work. Seriously, how can anyone be expected to do a good job if they aren’t sure what the job is?

Another one found that 96% of employees say getting regular feedback is a good thing.

Setting people up to be successful takes a lot of time and attention. You are clearly providing your newbie with plenty of both. This is a good thing. But, more important, you are establishing a partnership with your employee and sending the message that you care about her and her success.

Finally, if you are really worried that you might be micromanaging inappropriately, remember a key tenet of SLII®: you must partner with each of your direct reports to establish exactly what they need from you on each task or goal. Giving direction is only micromanaging if the person being managed doesn’t need it. Not giving direction to people who really need it is just—bad management. Or no management.

Ultimately, the only accurate arbiter of whether or not you are giving the right amount of direction and support is the person who is getting it. So if you are concerned that you are being too bossy, ask your employee questions like “Am I telling you stuff you already know?” or “Will you be sure to tell me if I am over-explaining stuff?”

The more you ensure that your people feel safe letting you know if they need more or less from you, the more secure you will feel. And when your new kid hits D2—the stage of being disillusioned and realizing the job is harder than she thought it would be—she will tell you and you will be ready to add plenty of support. She will be a strong, independent performer before you know it!

You obviously care, and you are doing it right. Next time your husband calls you bossy, just laugh and say “Moo.”

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a Master Certified Coach and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. She is coauthor of Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials training program, and several books including Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest, Coaching in Organizations, and Coaching for Leadership.

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