Somebody once passed me the following quote;

“I feel so energized after that 12-hour shift…” said by No One, Ever.

Of course this quote relates to the craze sweeping through law enforcement now in regards to having front line officers work 12-hour shifts in an effort to save on overtime costs.  This article is not about that however.  Instead we are going to use the same quote making process to discuss this quote;

“I feel that being micro-managed is the best leadership practice…” said by No One, Ever.

Micro-management in modern law enforcement is killing our profession.  Everyone from the street or jail officer straight through to the chief or sheriff should recognize when micro-management is beginning to appear within their agency.  Top agency leadership should do everything within their power to resist adopting the tendencies of micro-management and look for other answers to their command and leadership issues.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines micromanagement as “to try to control or manage all the small parts of (something, such as an activity) in a way that is usually not wanted or that causes problems.  I like the definition when used as a transitive verb, “to manage especially with EXCESSIVE CONTROL or attention to details (emphasis added by the author).  These definitions are one in the same, but the second one really hits home the main issue with micromanagement.  Armed with these definitions, we should next take a look at several negative factors of micromanagement. 

Micromanagement tears down the personal space of your subordinates.  One of my favorite 80’s sitcoms was WKRP in Cincinnati.  On the show they had newsman Les Nessman, who lacking a private office applied duck tape to the floor around his desk to designate office walls.  Nessman even went so far as to have people knock on his imaginary walls when they needed to “enter” his office to speak with him. 

Micromanagement involves a supervisor being on top of employees, monitoring everything they do.  Micromanagers have no issue keeping employees after work, or having them come in on their days off for meetings or details that could be done at other times. 

Micromanagers will continually check-up on everything the subordinate is doing, the result of these actions is making the subordinate into a “Nessman”.  Our employees might not be putting tape on the floor but the continual invasion of their space and time does nothing but frustrate and disenchant the subordinate.

Micromanagement shows a lack of delegation expertise on the part of a leader.  One of my Sergeants has always said it best, “We give them a gun, they drive a car at high speed, but we do not trust them to make a decision”.  Truer words have never been spoken.  In law enforcement we give our officers the ability to take someone’s life when needed, but yet we do not trust them with some of the most mundane decisions in their work day. 

I’m all about empowering our employees.  We should define the details that must be covered, and we must make sure that our employees are clear on what our final objective needs to be.  At the same time however we as leaders must have confidence in our people to make the small decisions in the field. 

When I lead leadership workshops and presentations and the subject of delegation comes up, someone always brings up that there employees cannot be trusted with delegated decisions.  I fire back with “then maybe your department is not hiring the right people”.  I usually hear crickets after that.  Hiring processes in law enforcement are a whole other beast, but I digress.

In micromanagement, everything is an emergency.  The classic micromanager always makes employees feel that every little nuance or task that is to be done, has to be done within a very short time span.  When it seems that every task is an emergency and needs to be done right away employees sometimes have a hard time telling the difference between those that are regular, low or medium priority tasks, and ones that are higher and necessarily have to be done in a more timely manner. 

All of these tasks eventually add up to employee stress.  Staff members trying to complete all of the “emergency tasks” in the shortest period of time is a recipe for disaster.  The leadership is also stressed, moistly unwarranted.  Sometimes this stress is from the staff members asking questions, needing clarification, or otherwise reacting negatively to all of the “get it done ASAP” tasks they have been given.

Micromanagement has one other component that is not often thought about.  Micromanagers are in most cases reactive in their leadership style.  They tend to over-react as well, and sometimes the unintended consequences of hastily made, reactive decisions are not always considered. 

Law Enforcement sometimes has room for reactionary decisions and they are sometimes necessary.  However, in most circumstances careful planning and research into a given issue will result in an effect and cost effective solution to a problem.  The extra burden of additional paperwork, extra steps in a process, or the overall addition of responsibilities and tasks because of a reactive management mindset can erode the confidence of a staff member.  It also makes the task or process take more time resulting in a lower threshold of productivity.  Virtually every law enforcement organization in the United States is grappling with budget reductions or constraints.  Reduced productivity is the last thing an agency needs.

How do we stop being a micromanager or more importantly if you recognize yourself doing any of these things how can you work to change your management style?  There are many behaviors you can change that would assist you with not being a micromanager.  But we are going to focus on three big ones.  If we consider these and work on them first, most of the others will fall into place, and you will have the “micromanager yoke” lifted off of your shoulders.

A great place to start with reducing micromanagement is to open communications between leaders and those who are lead.  In many instances the proverbial ivory tower does truly exist.  A hallmark of those who are not micromanagers is communication that is open and transparent with those who work for them.  

If employees are afraid to communicate their questions or ideas to a leader the agency will not be at its most optimal operational strength.  The comments do not have to be negative but instead constructive.  Employees need to be included in project meetings, or policy discussions in the beginning.  Likewise if an employee feels that they are listened to and the environment is one of teamwork instead of conflict then communication will flow, and with it efficiency and excellence in operations.

To combat micromanagement leaders must convey realistic deadlines to projects.  We all know that are duties are filled with the mundane tasks; do not make these the same priority as an emergency call for service. 

For instance, I know that an officer in a certain beat or area needs to drive the lots of the local high school checking cars and generally being a visual deterrent to criminal behavior.  Your agency has been asked to do it sometime before 1200hrs.  So instead of saying your officers have to do it before 0900hrs or else, give them the full time to complete it.  Then we can check later to ensure that the task was completed.  This helps you not be a micromanager, helps empower your officer, and lets you show that you have confidence in their abilities.  The best thing?  It has cost you nothing to do it.

The third and final strategy to help stop micromanaging involves a mirror.  Sometime leaders do not take the time to do a self check.  To ensure that they are being the best leader they can be.  The simplest way to do this is to simply ask, “Would I like working for myself”? 

If the answer is no then you need to look to see what tendencies you can change to avoid being a micromanager, and then of course change those tendencies.  Remember self criticism is sometimes hard for us to take, but in this instance it is necessary. 

Take stock of the negatives you see in your style of leadership, write them down and then make a list with possible solutions to your micromanagement tendencies.  Write out small action plans if you will for how you are going to turn these negatives into positives. Another way to assist in self-reflection is to actually have the input of others.  I’ve discovered when I needed some “gentle evaluation” from someone who works for me the newest officers on the shift usually offer the most honest information.

Micromanagement can have unintended and sometimes disastrous consequences in law enforcement.  As leaders we must make ourselves aware of the signs of micromanagement and better yet know how to change when we recognize them.  I strongly believe that anyone can be “cured” of this disease to an effective workplace. 

If you are someone who works for a micromanager, everyone at one time or another has been in your shoes.  My advice is to have a candid conversation with your leader.  Most times they do not realize that they are making things harder, most important they do not realize how their actions make their workers feel.

David Crisler Jr. is a Lieutenant with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is an adjunct instructor with the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy as well as his agencies training academy.  He teaches nationally as well and has been an instructor and speaker at several law enforcement and leadership conference across the United States.  You can reach David at [email protected]