If you asked any small business owner why they decided to take the leap and start their own business you can almost be certain that, no matter how many reasons they might list, among them will be some version of “I want to be my own boss.”
Some will tell you that wanting to be your own boss is a “bad” reason for starting a business. While we’d agree that if “being my own boss” is your only reason for becoming an entrepreneur it’s rather likely you’re going to have problems, a strong desire to be your own boss can also be a strong foundation upon which to build a successful business – but only if being your own boss is connected to a strong desire to be an exceptional leader.
It’s interesting that a desire to be your own boss commonly stems from being an unhappy employee. According to an article posted on Forbes,
“A Business Insider survey of 225 executives reports 22 percent want to launch their own companies. Why are they willing to make the sacrifice and take the risk? They want to run an enterprise their way. Deep in their hearts, they feel and know they will enjoy more satisfaction and fulfillment by establishing a healthier business culture.”
This same article cites a study by Accenture which indicated that the top reasons why people are unhappy with their jobs are:
1) They don’t like their boss (31%),
2) A lack of empowerment (31%),
3) Internal politics (35%) and
4) Lack of recognition (43%)
Isn’t it Ironic?
So, we’ve got a couple studies that indicate that many people who are unhappy with their jobs want to open their own business because they think they’ll enjoy their work more, doing so will increase their sense of job satisfaction, and they’ll feel more fulfilled. And they intend to do this by creating a “healthier” business culture at their small business. A healthier business culture would seem to be one where:
- Employees liked their boss
- Employees feel empowered
- Employees aren’t hampered by office politics
- Employee accomplishments and contributions are recognized
What’s ironic is that many small business owners who think they are creating a healthier business culture by mentoring their employees in ways that meet the above four criteria are actually micromanaging employees. And micro-managed employees generally don’t like their boss, don’t feel empowered, are stymied by internal office politics and hierarchy, and feel their contributions are ignored. In other words, in too many small businesses employees find themselves stuck in the same boat that motivated the small businesses’ owner to start it up in the first place.
But don’t be too hard on yourself. Change is always possible. The first step is to understand the difference between micromanaging and mentoring an employee. Fortunately Jim Rooney provides a succinct summary of the differences between the two:
What is micromanagement? It is excessive involvement by a manager with an employee in regards to their performance. In short, it is imposing work standards and behavior expectations that meet the personal needs of the manager, not the employee. It is to control a person or a situation by paying extreme attention to small details. The manager has good intentions to assist the employee fulfill their duties, but the employee feels disempowered and not trusted to complete work properly. Productivity falls drastically.
What is mentoring? Mentoring is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person acquire specific skills, attitudes and techniques that increases their value to their employer. The mentor shares personal experiences with the mentee. The mentee test drives the techniques and reports how it worked. The mentor helps them refine the concepts so it works with their personality.
This same article makes a distinction between mentoring and coaching. In essence, mentoring is when you teach less experienced employees using your own experience, knowledge, and skills. On the other hand, coaching according to Rooney is more about perspective. When coaching you “ask questions, listen closely and provide information that helps the other person gain a perspective that is beneficial.” We’d add that coaching helps an employee gain a perspective that is beneficial to that employee’s personal success and productivity in the context of contributing to your successful and productive small business.
Telltale Signs Your Micromanaging Not Mentoring
If it isn’t obvious to you whether or not you’re micromanaging, try asking yourself a few questions:
- Do you think you’re better at most “everything” than your employees?
- Do you have a hard time delegating?
- Do you constantly feel swamped or resent your employees because you think you have to do their job for them?
- Do you require employees working on tasks or projects to frequently/constantly report their progress to you? Are employees spending more time putting reports together for you than working on the project or task itself? Would you resent a boss who made you report as frequently?
- Do you “take back” projects that haven’t yet been completed just because you found a mistake?
- Are you constantly “checking up” on employees? Do you get anxious if you don’t know exactly what an employee is doing at any given moment?
- Do you hoard strategic, innovative, or creative projects and restrict your employees to performing boring, repetitive, mind-numbing duties?
- When assigning a project to employees do you dictate not just “what” but every “how” to complete the project rather than give your employees the power to identify and deploy tactics and tasks?
- Do you sometimes get frustrated because it seems your employees need to get your approval on every little detail? If so, ask yourself how you’ve contributed to this state of affairs. Do you get angry quickly? Are you easy to approach? Do you encourage employees to make decisions appropriate to their position and/or project they are managing?
- Do you get the feeling your employees avoid you?
It really isn’t all that difficult to discern whether or not you’re micromanaging. You can most likely tell whether or not your employees like working with you. You know whether or not you’re giving employees recognition for their contributions. And it isn’t too hard to tell if your employees feel empowered to make decisions appropriate to their position as well as how comfortable they are to come to you with ideas and information.
And, if after an honest self-assessment, you’ve identified yourself as micromanaging instead of mentoring and coaching, it isn’t all that difficult to turn things around. Here are a few ways to establish that “healthier business culture” you were determined your small business would operate within:
- Don’t be afraid to delegate.
- Encourage employees to make decisions within the scope of their duties and/or projects you’ve assigned them. This frees you to involve yourself in identifying high-level goals, strategies, and measureable objectives for achieving those goals. Give employees room to identify tactics and tasks.
- Don’t hover – give employees room to get their job done without constantly looking over their shoulder.
- We’re not promoting not requiring employees to report back to you – but let them report on how they are managing their duties and projects. Meet regularly with employees to go over their progress. You can require data to be included, but don’t get lost in minutia and, if you find a mistake, concentrate on helping the employee correct the mistake or find a solution to a setback instead of “taking the project back.”
- Make yourself available to employees. This might mean setting regular “one-on-one” times to meet for short periods of time with no set agenda. As employees come to know you are there to listen and mentor, trust between yourself and your employees will dramatically increase. Employees will become more willing to be transparent and willing to share ideas when their relationship with “The Boss” is collaborative in nature. In turn, employee productivity will also increase.
- Be sure to recognize the work and contributions of your employees. This can be done formally (some type of reward) as well as informally (“Great work” – “Thanks for getting this in on schedule” – “Good idea.”)
Finally, periodically put yourself in your employee’s shoes by asking some pretty basic questions: “If I were my employee, would I like working with me? Would I feel open to discuss problems or share ideas with me? Would I feel comfortable making decisions appropriate to my job or task without clearing any all decisions with me first? Would I feel appreciated?”