4 min read

The clarity of a task, the degree to which it has already been seen—already seen by the leader—the degree to which it has already been defined, structured, and measured, that sense of clearness and certainty translates into a message, a sign, indicating that the road ahead is a straight line from where I am to where I need to be.

This message feels at first like an empowering voice, a liberating mandate, for now, I know what to do. I am to follow THIS course and no other. The course has been laid out. The menu has been published. The options have been limited. I am free to follow the course.
I can do it! I feel enabled, capable, and competent.

The worst thing you, as my leader, can do for me now is to stand over my shoulder and show me the course. I’ve already seen it. I know how to drive.

To incessantly tweak my form—my speed, the way I hold the steering wheel, and whether I listen to Led Zeppelin or Vivaldi as I drive—would only serve to irritate me.

It would also become a message—just as clear as the mandate itself—a message that says:

I don’t really trust you with this task. In the depths of my mind, I fear you are incompetent. Though I have indicated the path with clarity and though I have given you the task, I don’t really trust that you can bring it to completion.

But if we go deeper, if we peel back another layer, we may find this lack of trust in the employee is yet another message spoken with just as much clarity once it is heard. This message, this voice, speaks not of the task, nor of the one appointed to the task, but of the leader who charged the subordinate with the task.

For within that complex and brilliant heart and mind of the one we call, “the leader,” lie fears, doubts, and misgivings about his own lack of competence.

You see, this leader is not really seeing the employee for who he is—as a complete human being in his own right.

This leader sees her own reputation, her own sense of fitness and ability tied inexorably with the performance of the subordinate.
Thus, the leader is not free to empower and the subordinate knows it, feels it. The words of empowerment are obscured by the noise of micromanagement.

Some leaders deal with their insecurity by clarifying the task to death. Not only the end is defined but also the means in every jot and tittle.

Not only that, but the delimitations of the task’s structure are constantly refined so that what seemed at first to be a clear mandate becomes a mutating blob, an amorphous, nameless, thing that the boss wants me to do, which I thought I understood, but now I’m unsure, hesitant, and confused about.

Post empowerment intervention is a precarious endeavor and should be risked only when the organization itself is in danger of being damaged—not just when your pride has been damaged.

Micromanagement turns a clear mandate into an upside down funnel with an ever narrowing focus on obscurity.

Clarity of mandate empowers but the continuation of clarification once the task has been made clear makes people feel like they have no choice or freedom in the way they perform their work. Every choice, every thought, every idea is assessed, interpreted, and remolded into the image of the leader, thus nullifying the very competence of the subordinate that the leader purports to embrace.

What drives your management behavior? Are you driven to micromanage by your own insecurities? What do you do when you see that a subordinate may be on a path to failure? How do when and when not to intervene? Please add a comment below.


Photo by sjugge, Available at flickr.com. Licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.

Portrait of Dr. Waddell

Dr. Greg Waddell is passionate about helping church leaders equip their people for ministry. He believes there is wild potential in every believer that begs to be released. He can help you develop and implement practical strategies for increasing the ministry capacity of your congregation.