By Brian Lucas
“Artie, I think we managed to get ourselves in a little trouble!” –James West speaking tongue-in-cheek to Artemus Gordon when confronted by arch-villain Miguelito Loveless, a brilliant, but megalomaniacal little person.
In our rushed working environment today, that demands hyper efficiency, there is nothing as deadly to agile as a micromanager. If every person on the team is not empowered and trusted to perform their function; you cannot be agile. If you cannot be agile, you cannot deal with the constant and complex changes taking place. Worse still you cannot compete with those who are. If you cannot compete, you are dead! There is no room for micromanaging or micromanagers in today’s agile business environment.
I promised to cover this subject for my good friend Anthony! Anthony is a remarkably expressive person with a facile and intelligent mind. He is ready to engage in intelligent conversation on any subject. Both he and his wife are the souls of exuberant generosity and a pleasure to be around. We were discussing work the other day over a small libation and perhaps a cigar. During this pleasant diversion, he mentioned that his wife was recently saddled with a micromanager. The saddled reference immediately triggered a horseback riding reference in my brain, which led to the west, which led to the golden days of yesteryear and the TV series the Wild, Wild West.
The Wild, Wild West starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin was one of the few TV series I watched in my younger days along with Don Herbert’s Mr. Wizard. As James West carried an arsenal concealed in the heels of his boots, of course, I promptly went about cutting the heels off my shoes and hollowing them out to conceal various handy objects in them; like homemade lock picks and spools of string I pretended were fuses. This was an activity my father frowned upon for some inexplicable reason, even though I cleverly managed to reattach the heels and still make them removable through the use of drilled holes and finishing nails. I am sure Robert Conrad who played James West would have been amused though. But I digress…
Why the Wild, Wild West reference? Well for one, I am trying to satisfy a number of reader requests for some of my likes and dislikes, as it were, outside my formal agile blog posts. Second, the Wild, Wild West is a classic example of agility because they were not micromanaged by their boss. They were given broad goals and empowered to accomplish them rapidly (after all it was only an hour long show) in ingenious and effective ways.
Even the team was small; in fact it was only a two man team (three if you include Jim West’s horse). The most important aspect of this team was that their boss trusted them to do their jobs. They were given a great deal of freedom of operation (after all how many of us have our own private luxury railroad cars). This trust extended itself to the internal working relationship of the team as well since West and Gordon trusted each other implicitly.
Micromanagement on the other hand is the antithesis of trust and in fact a downright insult to the intelligence of an employee. There is nothing that will more speedily corrupt the self-actualization, attitude and commitment an employee has for their job and their company, as a micromanager. This does not mean to say that management cannot make suggestions for improvement. In an agile environment, anyone can. Associates can also suggest improvements to managers about the manager’s own work. Try it sometime Mr. Manager and see what suggestions you get. Are you afraid? The key word here is suggestions and not orders.
How do you avoid micromanagers? Well, as a company, don’t hire them. When you do hire someone new, make sure they understand the concept of team and employee empowerment. Tell them in explicit terms that micromanaging is not acceptable. Finally, as always, have management subject to review in an open 360 degree fashion. Making complaints behind someone’s back never serves a company well and eventually devolves into political intrigue. Open and honest reviews are fundamental to successful interpersonal relationships. Personalized criticism is not allowed, but suggestions for improvement are made. The reviews are frequent enough so that changes can be made early. Poor behavior is interdicted before it becomes a bad habit.
So if you are a CEO, you need to nip micromanagement in the bud, right from the top and as soon as possible. Don’t procrastinate on this issue. You can read about the benefits of not procrastinating and ACTing immediately in my previous post A Natural Agilist Makes Mangia a Marvelous Experience. It will kill your company as surely as a bullet from a Smith and Wesson Russian .44 or a Colt .45. (Yes, I am familiar with old west firearms. Farmer Langford Peel and I were discussing the merrits of various firearms last month when I revisited the old west.) If you are a micromanager and reading this, take heart and begin an open dialog with the people you work with and build up a trust relationship with them. You will both be more effective and happier. Finally, as you can see, watching TV can be educational. It depends upon what you are watching and if your brain is on or off. Remember till next time, Keep Agile!
 Check it out on DVD or wherever you can find it. It is still an entertaining series.
 James West had hollowed out boot heels where he secreted everything from a derringer to explosives and fuses. Good thing I did not have access to a derringer.
 James West actually had two horses a more placid horse referred to as hobby horse and a fiery one that was more Arabian nicknamed superstar.
 Yes even the horse had his own car.
 If you wait for a year to pass you are far too late.
So funny and so true. Brian you are a riot!
Hi Brian! Remember me? Great article on the dangers of micromanagement. I never saw the TV series, it was before my time, but you made your point well. I am very impressed with your writing skills. I found the comments about you very intriguing. Can I email you?
This was the most entertaining post I have read this year. Kudos to you Brian and if you’re ever in the Cambridge area please let me know!
Brian this is is so hysterical I am almost laughing too hard to comment. What a gem this is!!! The comments are so interesting and revealing. I have to meet you sometime!
Oh Brian! I have a manager just like this! This is too funny for words! Thanks for giving me a much needed laugh! I love your sense of humor! The comments here are such a riot! If you are ever in LA look me up!
This is the best post and most funniest on micromanagement I ever read. I had a real a** of a manager a while back and it was hell working for him. I love reading the comments on this post. Brian please let me know if you are ever in Philadelphia. I’d love to have lunch with you.