190 – Micro managing and macro directing. A local government phenomenon?

Posted by Whistler                                                          600 words

macro manager

I was reading about ‘macro managers’ and the five signs that you could be one when it occurred to me that the divide between the Executive and managers in local government can be partly explained by this idea.

We are all aware of ‘micro managers’ and the problems associated with managers who constantly get right into all the details. Wikipedia describes it as ‘a manager who closely observes or controls the work of subordinates’ and comments that it generally has negative connotations. I agree. But how often do you see it in local government?

Some of the ‘symptoms’ of micro management are low levels of delegation, requests for unnecessary reports, taking credit for others’ results (particularly the more narcissistic micro managers), blaming others, and denying their behaviour by describing themselves as ‘structured’. I would add the disempowering effect it has on people.

In contrast, at the next level up in the organisational hierarchy macro management tends to occur. By the time micro managers have been promoted to this level it is impossible to micro manage everything. The workload is too big and the control mechanisms too ineffective. Some leaders do try and control everything and this usually results in an exodus of direct reports to better organisations.

I know of a council where almost every member of the top two levels of management left (some positions turned over more than once) over a three year period when a new micro managing CEO was appointed. Surprisingly, I think the councillors saw this is a sign of effectiveness in ‘sorting the oats from the chaff’.

The five signs of macro management are worth mentioning.

  1. You expect staff to mind-read – you have a big vision in your head and the team is expected to deduce it from limited communication.
  2. You are a digital under-sharer – new ways for digital collaboration are set up for everyone and the leader doesn’t participate in them.
  3. You have never seen your team in natural light – the only interactions are at the office and about work.
  4. You let your ‘out of office’ do the talking – the team doesn’t know when you are away and when you will be back.
  5. You point the finger of blame – some macro managing is fear driven. Delegating projects completely allows you to detach yourself from any failure. You are not responsible because people weren’t following your instructions.

When you work for a macro director (especially one that has got to their position through successful micro managing) the last sign is ominous. They are not natural delegators and when circumstances are out of their control and they have no choice, they readily blame others for failure. I call it the Sepp Blatter defence – he couldn’t be everywhere watching everyone, therefore it wasn’t his responsibility that some of them did the wrong thing.

Poor communication, expecting the team to work out what has now become important, only interacting in the office, all work and no play – these are all symptoms of the time poor micro manager promoted into a leadership role in local government.

Macro directing and micro managing and are like oil and water – they don’t mix. The gap between managers and directors can often be explained by this phenomenon. Directors have to macro manage (even if it is not their preference) and managers have to micro manage as a result.

While we keep mixing oil and water we will have an immiscible emulsion that takes continuous effort to blend.