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.

Cape Town and Robben Island

Yesterday we arrived at the Cape Town airport without a booked hotel having changed from original plans to fly to Port Elizabeth when weather prevented us. The city is busy with a large mining conference but we were able to find a nice room online at the Hilton Hotel in the city centre. Great breakfasts and a bonus that it has a super sea salt outdoor pool which we have found delightful at the end of a hot day sightseeing. Weather is very warm – over 30 degrees and the sun is very strong on our pale Canadian winter skin. No complaints though – especially thinking of you braving the icy cold at home.

Yesterday (Saturday) we enjoyed a city tour which took us around the main downtown areas as well as up Table Mountain with its iconic views of the city, the harbor and the oceans, and through the beach communities – like Camps Bay – which stretch along the seashore at the foot of the Twelve Apostles. The beach area reminds me of Kitsilano in Vancouver. The city is as stunning as its reputation. Like all vibrant cities in the world it has it’s gritty areas as well – as we found out one night walking out to dinner on Long St – and it has a large shanty town with very small tin-roofed huts which must be unbearably hot in summer and cold in winter.

Today we had a very interesting trip to Robben Island. We’re so glad we read Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom and reread Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country before coming. Being aware of recent history and political events has made it much easier to understand many things and to appreciate where the country is at socially and where it intends to go. Mandela is honored everywhere for his courage, heart, vision and tenacity. He is a hero and a role model to the black population as one of their own who brought the world to South Africa. To whites he is a man who is much admired as a Nobel peace prize winner – one of 4 South Africans to do so (also Bishop Tutu, de Klerk and Albert Luthuli).

This country is a haven for all Africans. We hear reports that people stream across the border trying to get to a better life. And for those who know these things, they can have documents indicating their new citizenship overnight – a big problem for a country that wants to provide jobs, good health care and education to all its people. Apparently income taxes are only collected from a small part of the population either because the rest don’t earn enough or because they don’t know how to fill out the forms and have never had to do it??? – we need to understand this better……

We are also told this is the murder and rape capital of the world. Blacks have told us they know where people are from by their appearance and they will keep people out to protect their jobs. That said, tourists are very well treated. It is said that one tourist can create up to 10 jobs. People understand that jobs are what is needed to decrease poverty and open up opportunity. Working blacks are everywhere: In the restaurants, hotels, taxis, ticket booths for sightseeing, as well as driving the tour buses and boats and guiding tours on Robben Island (many political prisoner are now the guides) and some are the guests and tourists as well and of course they are the journalists, politicians and governors of this country and largely making a good job of it.

Today which is Monday Feb 6 we fly to Tswalu Game Reserve in the Kalahari. We have lots more observations and pictures to share and will do so as we can.

Post Olympics Excitement

Recently we’ve had two interesting opportunities to reconnect with some of the athletes. On the first occasion we met Clara Hughes at The Green Living Showin Toronto in April where she was a prominent guest speaker.

She was dynamic, excited, very well prepared and spoke easily to a rapt audience of several hundred people for more than an hour armed with an excellent video of the Games events in which she participated. After her talk she signed autographs for a large crowd of interested spectators. Continue reading “Post Olympics Excitement”

Sunshine and Excitement in the City

Gorgeous Vancouver day today! The sun is out, the sky is clear, the mountains seem closer to the city than ever and the views are spectacular. The weather has brought out lots of strollers into the streets of the Athletes’ Village. You realize how spectacular this city is when the weather is nice!

We are half way through the Games and the time is flying by. The energy in the city is electric. There are people everywhere with Go Canada on clothing, on signs and flags, on cars and trucks, in store windows, and reflected in their conversation. People are talking to each other everywhere – on the streets, in the sky train, waiting at stoplights, even in the grocery store. Locals are helping visitors to get to where they want to go, offering suggestions of great things to do, asking volunteers what work they are doing, where they are from, why they chose to volunteer and what it is like.
Continue reading “Sunshine and Excitement in the City”

Courage and Tenacity: Qualities of Leaders

I was in Trafalgar Square in London England recently and made a point of finding Edith Clavell’s memorial in St Martin’s Place. Like all great leaders, no matter the arena, Edith Clavell had great courage and much tenacity.  During the first World War, she was a nurse who remained in Brussels, Belgium, after the Germans occupied the city early in the war, tending to wounded soldiers from all countries at the Red Cross Hospital.

In addition to this work, Clavell helped captured British, French and Belgian soldiers escape to the neutral Netherlands, where most would eventually make it across the channel to England.  Born on December 4, 1865 in Swardeston, England, she has been described as a “vivacious, tree-climbing girl who grew into the determined, severe woman we see in the statue.”  She has been further described as “headstrong and independent” and thus prevented from attracting “a man of money” and it is said that ” she was too proud to accept a lesser one”.   She never married, but devoted her life to nursing.

Here is an account of her work from the diary of a man she nursed back to health:

In 1915 Miss Clavell was directress of l’Ecole Belge d’ Infirmieres Diplomees, as well as a new hospital, St. Gilles, both training women for the profession of nursing.  As the great war engulfed Belgium Miss Clavell became part of an underground resistance network working in Brussels to help men escape.  She protected hospitalized men by keeping them longer than they needed.  When there were no beds available, Edith sheltered men in the hospital’s attic and cellar.  In this way, she helped approximately two hundred men escape the Germans.  On August 4, 1915, after months of observation, the Germans arrested Edith and others sheltering Belgian soldiers.  On October 7, 1915, Edith Clavell, along with others in the underground network were found guilty of resistance activities and sentenced to death by firing squad.  Despite American, French and Spanish intercession, Edith’s sentence was not commuted.  On October 12, 1915, Edith was executed by German firing squad.

Edith Clavell was 49 years old when she was shot to death.  “Her life and death make me think of the line from The Dead Poets Society when Robin Williams’ character, Mr Keatings says to his students:  “Make something of yourselves, boys.   Make you life count!