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micromanaging

What is your management style?

Jenica Rogers wrote a thoughtful post today about management at her blog, Attempting Elegance. In her post, “Lessons Learned: Micromanaging,” she reflects on her management style as a new library director. She talks about how her personal strength and talent at project maangement has unexpectedly become a problem in her work as an administrator.

I think it would be a good practice to reflect upon one’s own management style whether one is a manager or not as we all have to manage at least our own time and work. Furthermore, as professional librarians, we are also often put in a position to manage temporary, hourly, and student employees or even volunteers.

My own management style is actually a complete opposite to Jenica’s. I love delegating and long to delegate more of my work, so that I can focus on and spend more time on certain projects that really need me. Just unfortunately, right now I don’t have many people to whom I can delegate some of my tasks.

I confess when I was in library school, I didn’t pay great attention in my management class. I figured I would be a lay librarian and I wouldn’t have much need for management sorts of things. I soon realized that that was a pretty wrong assumption. I recruited a couple of students in my first year as a professional librarian after I realized that I could not keep up with all the tasks by myself. Since I worked with students before and it worked so well at my previous workplaces where I was a paraprofessional, I thought it would be a piece of cake. How wrong I was! (And also that made me realize how great a manager my boss was.)

A Very Young Dancer

"25/365 from 'A Very Young Dancer' by Jill Krementz" Photo from Dream Diary in Flickr

The problem I had was that, unlike Jenica, I didn’t do enough micro-managing. For example, I expected my students to read up stuff that I gave them and then to apply what they learned to work, which I showed how to do just a few times in front of them. Of course, I supposed that they would ask me any questions as they arose, work and behave professionally, and appreciate the freedom and trust I gave them. And by all means, the tasks that I assigned them were the simplest ones, at least in my mind.

What I was doing wrong was to treat my student assistants in the way I like to be treated. Not that there is anything wrong with the Golden Rule, the mistake I made was to think that my student assistants would have the same kinds of needs and work styles as I do. I love working independently and excel at setting up projects and getting things done without much direction or guidance. Whenever I spot a problem, I am happy to do my own research, solicit feedback without being prompted,  make decisions to fix the problem, and accomplish goals that I see as my responsibilities. On the other hand, I do not enjoy spot-checking others’ work or writing reports about things that have been done.

Now this tendency of mine would work great if I were to supervise someone exactly like me. However, you can guess this wasn’t the case with my student assistants. Now that I think about it, the freedom and the trust that I placed upon them could have been baffling and confusing to them. They may not have fully understood exactly what the tasks were and, more importantly, how meticulous their work had to be for it to be useful to others. A lot of things that I expected my student assistants to be able to do themselves and apply to their tasks may well have been simply beyond their capabilities. In retrospect, they would have benefited from personal attention and lots of directions and guidance as well as frequent check-ups to ensure that they were on the right track. But as a complete newbie manager with the natural tendency of macro-managing (if that is a word), I completely missed all of this for a while. The result was, well, not quite great. Some of the work that was done by student assistants had to be redone by me, and some of the projects didn’t get finished.

It took a while for me to realize that the failure came from me just as much as from my student assistants. I wasn’t managing them in the way that they needed me to. I treated them as if they were just like me. While this may well be a good rule in ethics, it certainly is not so for a manger.

I read somewhere that treating everyone equally is not a strength of a manger. A good manager treats everyone differently because everyone is different (with different strengths, needs, and work styles). I would probably never be a micro-manager as I believe that everyone should achieve a certain level of expertise (i.e. independence) in their areas by learning their work and doing it well through practice and that all of us do our best work when we are internally motivated, not externally. However, we all need different things at different times in different projects. A good manager is someone who can see the needs of those who s/he manages and can offer what is needed for each individual at a given time. And there, the distinction between micro-managing and macro-managing may well be irrelevant. That I now know from my mistakes. What is your management style?