Micromanager or Performance Leader?


As the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds, I sometimes get visitors to the office who express dissatisfaction that their “leader” is a micromanager. I hear – “why won’t they let me do my job!!??” or “do they think I’m stupid” or “I’ve got these great ideas, but don’t get a chance to share them” and the list goes on.  And, you’ve perhaps seen the “Are You a Micromanger? Take the Quiz to Find out?” (here’s one from Inc. and another from thebalancecareers.com) This is where I started the thinking for this post. What does a micromanager do and are there some strategies to help shift this dynamic? I started writing and then I stopped and did what I routinely do with visitors to the ombuds office – can we reframe the situation? Can we think in terms of positive, constructive behaviors, or in terms of performance? Can we make it us versus the problem?  So, here goes a reframe.

In the context of this post it becomes not how to stop being a micromanager; instead, it is about how to be a performing manager or let’s call it a “Performance Leader.” Certainly much has been and will be written on this subject yet let me share a few ideas to get you (and maybe even your manager) started!

Here are several ideas about being a good manager from Art Petty, writing about “12 Ideas to Dramatically Improve your Performance as a Manager,” that seem to strike a positive cord.

Get up and walk around! Or, as Art calls it, don’t be a “bridge lizard” – meaning don’t sit at your desk, survey the scene from a stationary spot, and take potshots at folks that pass by. Put yourself (as manager) into the action and learn about your team and the work to be done and stop taking those potshots!

Increase the information flow.  People want to know how to do their job and, if the information, is available, they’ll use it. They will get the job done. Share information.

Change your approach to “trust.”  I think this is my favorite. Start with trust first. Give it to your team. While earning trust is also important, Art believes that if you give it freely first, then people will work hard to meet and exceed expectations and will earn it too.

So, if you are a manager think about the “frame” you use and consider taking some advice from Art and get off that bridge!  And, when you want some help thinking about workplace issues, GO OMBUDS!

From Great To Extraordinary – Leadership For All !


NC State is currently in the midst of a major development effort (The Campaign for NC State) and with over 1.3 billion (yes billion) raised to date and with a goal of 1.6, it is well on its way to meeting its goal. GO PACK!  The campaign is about helping the university transform from Great to Extraordinary and I often think about this frame in my work as the NC State faculty and staff ombuds. How can NC State go from great to extraordinary as a workplace?

To be sure, there are many examples of extraordinary already in action across NC State from its Chancellor and Provost, administrators, faculty, staff and students.  However, for faculty and staff that access ombuds services, from their perspective, something is not feeling extraordinary; instead, they are seeking support and solutions to workplace issues, concerns, and conflicts. In my role as ombuds, as I help people engage with and navigate a situation, and, mirroring the campaign, I think – how can solutions help shift both the individual situation and the workplace to extraordinary?

One answer that will come as no surprise – it’s about leadership and how its framed and welcomed across the university. And, too be sure, there are many extraordinary leaders here at NC State as well as leadership focused programming. A recent training initiative developed by HR for all managers and supervisors – Management Essentials – captures the idea of supporting leadership throughout the institution.

I’ve also done some leadership work related to how people address conflicts both in the workplace and on sports teams (along with a colleague Bill Sanford of Team Achievement)  including research (What is Leadership?) supported by the National Soccer Coaches Association of American (now United Soccer Coaches). In fact, I’ve renamed one workshop I offer from “Conflict Resolution Skills” to “Conflict Leadership” – how people and teams deal with conflict are leadership skills.

Further, when I did sports related work, one stream of data indicated that team cultures needed support for leadership across the group. A team needed its formal leaders with defined roles and room for informal leaders, i.e., everyone to be leaders at different times and in different ways. It was this idea that seemed to shift teams from good to great to extraordinary. On the athletic fields we hear the idea of “stepping” up and that’s what we saw in extraordinary teams – everyone had the opportunity and support, the culture, to be a leader and step up their contribution to the team.

I think this can also fit in the workplace and it connects with a recent New York Times Opinion by Thomas Friedman “Where American Politics Can Still Work: From the Bottom Up” describing the city of Lancaster, PA, and its revitalized and vibrant downtown. Friedman explains how a group of community leaders formed without any actual authority and crossed political beliefs to generate positive and transformative change. Friedman quoted community activist Gidi Grinstien stating “what is saving communities today is leadership without authority.”

In other words, for a city to become extraordinary, it needs everyone to be leaders at different times and in different ways. This what I saw on sports teams and I think its true for a university. To be extraordinary, every faculty, staff, administrator, and student must be supported to be a leader in different ways and at different times.

I take this idea into my conversations with faculty and staff, that as we explore the issue that brought them to the ombuds office, we also explore how they can take steps to lead their own resolution effort.  This is the work of the ombuds. To help individuals, groups, and the university use a leadership culture, whether it be about stepping up or leading without authority, to transform issues, concerns, and conflicts into something extraordinary!

Next time you have an issue, concern, or conflict and you want to lead – GO OMBUDS!