How to Stop Micromanaging and Start Leading

Are you a micromanager or a leader? Try this simple test: In any given situation, are you more likely to tell your team what to do, or do you start by asking questions that lead to an exchange of ideas?

While a micromanager will focus on execution, control, and telling people what to do, the best leaders ask questions.

“This management trick works in almost every situation,” says Cate Huston, who is mobile lead with Automattic. “Ask questions, listen, and care about the answers.” Huston, who is a prolific blogger, writes about her experiences as a new manager, and has written about the power of asking questions and listening to and understanding the people she works with and manages.

Effective leadership takes more than just asking the right questions, though. It requires being in a leaderly frame of mind.

The Mindset of Inquisitive Leaders

“What is the mind-set of a leader who leads effectively by asking questions?” That’s the question I asked of participants in a recent group coaching program. “Be open-minded,” said one. “Be open to all answers,” and “Don’t assume you know the answers,” responded others.

In my experience, it starts with having a curious nature. Research suggests that approaching your work with intellectual curiosity can enhance performance and learning retention. Curiosity also makes learning more enjoyable because it activates your brain’s reward centers. So if you intend to ask questions, be curious!

You’ll also need to build up trust with your team. That’s important because if people don’t trust your intentions, they won’t give honest answers. You’ll need to be non-defensive, and open to hearing both diverse and challenging viewpoints.

You’d also better be ready to fully engage with what you’re hearing. Great listeners do more than make eye contact, nod, and say “mmm-hmm”. They are fully present to what they hear, making it a conversation, clarifying the information they’re receiving, and asking follow-up questions. Always be open to learning new ideas, changing direction if necessary, and acting on what you’re hearing. It’s what makes the difference between micromanaging and leading.

A Leaderly Checklist

Here’s a checklist for developing into a leader who ask questions, and truly listens to the answers.

• Develop a curious nature
• Build trust
• Stay open
• Listen to diverse viewpoints
• Let your team challenge you
• Engage with what you’re hearing
• Be present
• Make it a conversation
• Clarify what you’re hearing
• Ask follow-up questions
• Invite learning opportunities
• Change direction when necessary
• Act on what you’re hearing

Jo Miller

Jo Miller is a globally renowned authority on women’s leadership. She’s dedicated two decades to helping women advance into positions of influence by leveraging their leadership strengths. Based on her work with hundreds of thousands of women, she developed a pragmatic and powerful roadmap that guides women to become the leaders they aspire to be. Jo shares this proven process in her book Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive (McGraw Hill, 2019.)

Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.com and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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