Are You a Micro-Manager or a Teach-a-Man-to-Fish-er?
Tuesday, February 7, 2012Tweet
When I was in high school, we had two choir directors. One taught the choirs I was in my first two years, the other taught the extracurricular choir I was in that sang music from around the world, and they co-taught the top-level choir I was in my junior and senior years.
The first director... Let's just say he had a high opinion of himself. He was very focused on getting all eyes on him during rehearsal and while we were performing. He seemed to believe that if we looked away from him for a second, to glance at our sheet music or look out at the audience, the performance would fall apart. How would we possibly know what to do next unless we were watching him for direction?
The second director, by contrast, was a humble, soft-spoken man. He took a very different approach. You'd think, for both the extracurricular choir that included students with zero prior musical experience and the top-level choir that was singing the most challenging music, he too would have felt the need to give a lot of direction and keep everyone's focus on him. But he regularly taught us songs with the intention that he could start us singing and then walk off the stage. He taught us to be responsible for knowing our entrances and how to adjust our tempo and volume at the appropriate times.
I was thinking about this contrast the other day, and how it mirrors that proverb, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." And then it struck me how much this plays out in other areas of life.
Nowadays we hear about "helicopter parents" who want so much for their children's path in life to be smooth that they'll hover over them, trying to ensure their children are making the right choices at all times and that no one's treating their children unfairly. It's as if they believe that if they let their children loose to make mistakes and deal with the consequences, all hell would break loose and their children would be forever ruined.
When I have children, I don't want to be the kind of parent that does everything for my children. I want to be a model and help them along the way, but my end goal is that they are able to make decisions for themselves.
Here's another realm where teachings can go either way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that each person has a moral conscience to guide their decision-making, and even goes so far as to say (quoting Pope Paul VI's Dignitatis Humanae), "[Man] must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters." Yet I shared with you last month the article about the Minnesota archbishop who insisted priests agree with him or say nothing. Some religious leaders seem fearful of letting people have too much control over their own lives.
Mike and I were just talking about this tonight, about how as a manager he tries to train his employees to be self-sufficient so he doesn't feel the need to micro-manage them. This is one of the things I greatly appreciate about my own boss; he trusts me to get things done and rarely follows up or reminds me. My previous boss went even further and asked me to never cc: her on anything; if she asked me to do it, she would assume I did it, and didn't want me adding to her overflowing inbox.
I've thankfully never had a micro-managing boss, but I did have a coworker one time who had held my job previously, and she kept reminding me to do things before I'd even had a chance to do them. I finally had to tell her that she would never be able to see that I knew what I was doing unless she backed off and trusted me a little. Did I make mistakes? Sometimes. Were they catastrophic? Never.
Do you remember when I gave up nagging Mike for Lent? That was SO hard! I wanted to be that controlling choir director, reminding him of his appointments and the errands he promised to run and making sure he did the dishes every night.
Of course, what did I find? Mike stepped up to the plate, big time. He took complete responsibility in the areas where he'd allowed himself to rely on me and my reminders previously. And it took stress off both of us: I wasn't stressing about having to remind him all the time, and he wasn't stressed out from constant nagging from me.
As you can probably tell, I'm a proponent of the teach-a-man-to-fish philosophy. I try to avoid being overly controlling (or controlled) wherever possible. I'm sure most people probably fall somewhere in the middle -- not micro-managing, but not explicitly trying to help others become self-sufficient -- but the extremes help to show the comparison.
What's your philosophy? Do you think there are times when it's better to micro-manage?