Discussion: Is hands-on management an oxymoron?

Is it possible to be a hands-on manager without being a micromanager? If your answer is "Yes," are you sure your staff would agree? Join our discussion on toeing the line between being supportive and suffocating.

A good friend of mine was promoted about a month ago to the group leader of systems administrators at a private university. Suddenly, my laid-back, egalitarian buddy oversees a staff of eight.

I asked him how he liked it. It was fine, he responded, but he admitted he didn’t really feel like he was a manager per se.

“It’s more like I take requests for work, find the person who can best do it, and give the job to that person,” he said.

“More like a project coordinator than a manager?” I asked.

“Exactly,” he replied.

I’m sure his staff would appreciate his confidence in them. My perception of IT workers is that they enjoy—and are generally capable of—working independently without a lot of hand-holding.

And yet, I know from posts on TechRepublic and conversations with other friends in IT that many managers don’t foster independence or trust their employees to do their jobs. Which brings me to the question I’d like to discuss: When does hands-on management become micromanagement?

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In our Discussion Center, we're talking about the thin line between hands-on management and micromanagement. To add to this discussion, post your comment to this article. Each week, the person who provides the best feedback to this column will win a free TechRepublic coffee mug.
This week, guest columnist Loraine Lawson is filling in for Bob Artner. His column will return next week.

Micromanagement: A modern tragedy
Often, a manager who might label him or herself a “hands-on manager” is considered a micromanager by the workers.

Take, for example, this vignette from another friend who is a Visual Basic developer.

This friend—we’ll call him Wilson—is an extremely bright person who prides himself on being a problem solver. He loves developing and doesn’t need someone to push him to do his job. In this case, he also knows more about the development side of assignments than his manager, who has more of a business background.

The problem is his boss has no ability to delegate and believes that, if he does pass along an assignment, he needs to be right there to attend to every detail of completing it.

Needless to say, this causes problems between the IT manager and his staff. First, the employees resent that he doesn’t trust them.

Second, he inhibits the workflow because all information and decisions must be filtered through him and he needs time to review each detail, delaying progress.

Third, because he does not entrust his staff with the details and knowledge they need to carry out their jobs, they often must redo work because he confused details or failed to deliver important information.

My friend, and many of his coworkers, left the company in large part because they disliked this manager’s hands-on style.

My question to you
Let’s face it: Management is as much art as science. It’s hard to strike a balance between helping your staff and smothering them.

This is especially true when outside conditions—such as the sliding economy—create additional pressures on managers to justify their team’s work. Until recently, we’ve enjoyed a market that encouraged innovation and excused mistakes. As financial pressures build, so does the pressure on managers to monitor the work progress of staff members.

Is it possible to be a hands-on manager without sinking to micromanagement? I’m not sure. I would suggest the two are separated by a thin line and may largely depend upon whom you ask—your fellow managers or your staff.

What’s your take?
What is the difference between a hands-on manager and a micromanager? How do you balance the need to monitor your staff’s efforts vs. the need to respect their professional integrity? Join our discussion below. Each week, the person who provides the best feedback to an Artner's Law column will win a TechRepublic coffee mug.


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