Micromanagement and Humble Inquiry

I have been hearing a lot about “micromanagement” lately in my coaching work with 360° LPIs (Leadership Practices Inventories) where invited Observers are asked a series of questions regarding the Leaders’ behaviours that either support them or detract from their learning, their self-concept as professionals and thus, their job satisfaction. In a series of interviews with professionals in another organization with retention issues, the issue of “micromanagement” surfaced with regard to a leader whose knowledge, expertise and meticulousness led to her team’s sense of being “overpowered’ and disrespected by her tendencies to “micromanage” others.

In the context of business management, “micromanagement” is defined as a management style whereby a manager closely observes and/or controls the work of his/her subordinates or employees. In a 10.16.2017 Fast Company newsletter piece titled: ”Stress is making you micromanage, which is making everything worse”, the author, Caterina Kostoula discusses the effects of being micromanaged on health, creativity, retention and productivity and asks the reader to consider why there is a need to micromanage, what is the source of anxiety that is leading to the behaviour. She suggests a number of ways to understand and curb the tendency.

Both these experiences and readings have brought me to Ed Schein’s 2013 Humble Inquiry text, which is about the art of questioning, rather than telling. In today’s social organizational climate no one wants to be told, least of all highly educated professionals of any age who believe that their education and expertise ensures they will be treated with respect as the knowledge workers they are. Ed Schein is a thought leader who has maintained his interest, involvement and noted expertise in the world of people, organizations and culture for 60+ years. He is 90 years old, a former professor in The Sloan School of Management, a master in organizational culture and leadership and still a powerful force in the organizational development world.

There are different forms of Humble Inquiry outlined in the text and there are a few commonalities among them.
1. Humble Inquiry implies a desire to build a relationship with colleagues that will lead to more open communication and greater feelings of teamwork, trust and mutual respect.
2. It implies that one makes oneself vulnerable and thereby, arouses positive helping behaviour to the other person. It is about an attitude of interest and curiosity.
3. Humble Inquiry is necessary if we want to build a relationship beyond rudimentary civility, because we may find ourselves in various kinds of interdependencies in which open, task-relevant information must be conveyed across status boundaries.
4. It is only by learning to be more humbly inquiring that we can build up the mutual trust needed to work together and open up communication channels.

It is likely that in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous organizational world of today, it is easy to fall into the trap of micromanaging to avoid the anxiety of not knowing. By better understanding our discomfort with highly uncertain outcomes, we may get better at identifying and understanding a tendency to micromanage – and by the way, this tendency may be seen by others before we are able to see it ourselves. The next necessary step is to identify the behaviours that are deemed by others to be micromanaging. The final and very important step is to successfully learn the art of Humble Inquiry and to use it whenever we feel the urge to take the lead away from others to dispel our own discomfort.

With thanks to Ed Schein, Caterina Kostoula, Fast Company and a series of online summarizing authors from sites such as Agile Jottings.

Mandela and Leadership

I was listening to an HBR webcast yesterday – an interview with Christiane Amanpour, who has always interested me, on Leadership. One of the things she said really struck a cord. She said “leadership is not a zero sum game” – an expression that has long confused me and which I now understand more clearly. She said: “As a leader, you have to look for the win – win for yourself and for the other. She used Mandela’s desire and ability to build relationship with De Klerk as an example and she talked about understanding the other’s perspective so that you can find the win-win and enable others to act. This is something I have always believed in and tried to practice and teach/coach. With her gift of communication, she expressed it so well and so easily.

Most Amazing Soweto Tour Today

We had a fantastic day today. After a very good sleep and a wonderful breakfast overlooking the city of Johannesburg we headed out on a tour of Soweto, starting with the Apartheid Museum and ending with the Hector Pieterson Museum. In between we visited Mandela’s home, which is now a small museum, and we had a local lunch with our guide. There is so much to tell that we will do it in stages today and tomorrow so please check back on this post as we put it together. It’s almost dinner time so we will publish it as we add information.

We left the hotel with Ben, our excellent tour guide at 1030am and returned at 5pm. We were concerned that much of what we would see would be very hard to take in. Ben started the tour by saying “I am going to show you the good, the not-so-good and the ugly.” And he did – all while answering our many questions with honesty, humour, grace and pride. He has many good reasons to be proud, he has lived in Soweto all his life – he tells us he is 40 and the youngest child of 4. His mother is 75; his father left when he was 6. Their household also consists of his two nephews, 21 and 17 (as their uncle he has resposibilities to see they are raised well) and his own 2 children on weekends. He is a very conscientious and kind man. We know this by the respectful and kind way he treats the many people – both old and young – that we come in contact with over the course of the day. He tells us he has just finished paying the bride price (dowry) for his second wife. He is proud to tell us she is a teacher. We are sorry to learn that his mother has just been diagnosed with TB. Happily she is being well cared for in a local hospital. He tells us that healthcare Is provided for all South African citizens. We later learn that TB is often used in Africa as a euphemism for AIDS, which has a significant stigma attached to it. We also learn from reading the newspapers that although health care is provided for all, the quality is not at all what it needs to be. We hear – although we don’t see it – that thousands of people wait in the fields surrounding hospitals, hoping to be cared for at some point. This is a third world country for many of its citizens and a wealthy first world country for others – not unlike Canada with its challenges in First Nations communities. The significant difference here is that the African majority of many millions of people is by far the poorest and the least educated.

A little about Soweto: It stands for SOuth WEst TOwnship and is about 30 minutes from our hotel. The population is estimated to be about 3.5 million but no one really knows how many people actually live there. Apparently the government conducted a census last year, the results have not been released yet. Both Archbishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela lived there for many years. In fact Bishop Desmond Tutu still has a house which his son keeps for him and he stays there when he is in Johannesburg. The restaurant where we were invited to have an excellent local buffet lunch was beside his house.

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Leadership Strategies for a Complex Environment

• Minimize unnecessary rules
• Foster diverse relationships
• Enhance information flow, embrace paradox, and surface tensions
• Focus on action instead of plans and designs
• Build incrementally from simple systems that work
• Recognize and engage diversity in expertise, values and perspectives
• Decrease centralized control and support self-organization
• And Trust the Process!

Leadership at the Movies: Invictus and 5 Leadership Practices

Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood have created another very special movie now playing across North America. Invictus is the story of Nelson Mandela’s early days as President of South Africa, and particularly how he viewed the country’s Rugby team, the Springboks, and an upcoming World Cup event to be held in South Africa, as an opportunity to bring the country together.

The year is 1995. Mandela (Freeman) is in his first term as President. He recognizes the tremendous challenges facing his government in a land torn apart by apartheid. Racial tensions are at an all time high, people are struggling with the effects of crippling unemployment, and a new black government has shifted the balance of political power. Continue reading “Leadership at the Movies: Invictus and 5 Leadership Practices”