Have you ever been micro-managed? I have, and it’s not pleasant. It’s infantilizing and infuriating. When you micro-manage an employee, they are disempowered, frustrated, and eventually, they’ll disengage from their work.

I once had a boss who constantly demanded progress updates. Now, staying in the loop on major milestones and progress is important, but this manager was obsessed, often demanding minute-by-minute updates. The boss clearly didn’t trust any of us, and our level of engagement plummeted. Furthermore, we were so distracted by demands for updates, that it was difficult to focus on the project at hand. We were too busy being “managed” to get any work done.

I do not mean to suggest that active management is a bad thing—when done properly, it’s inspiring, motivating, and crucial to long-term success for everyone involved. But when it’s done badly, it’s a horrible experience.

Allowing employees to manage themselves—to establish effective work flows and processes, to collaborate freely with team members as they see fit, and to manage their own time—is a crucial component of creating and maintaining employee engagement.

As we guide the leaders who use our Actionable Conversations platform, we use the Engaged Employee Pyramid as a framework. I recently wrote about the importance of establishing Role and Culture fit for each employee (the foundational level of the pyramid). The second level on our Engaged Employee Pyramid is Self-Management, and it is essential for building a strong foundation for the higher-level thinking that team leaders aspire to cultivate.


To me, self-management is all about being treated as a respected adult. I feel fortunate to work for Actionable, where the virtual, results only work environment, makes micro-management impossible. If I couldn’t be trusted to do my own work, in my own time, I never would have been hired.  

Look around your workplace. Are you managing anyone on a daily (or hourly) basis? Are you sure you need to? If you’re not sure, have a conversation with them about trust, and indicate you will continue to have weekly check-ins to gauge progress, making it clear that they are in control of their own deliverables. Let them know that you are available to support them if need be, and then get out of the way. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

If you are 100% certain that your staff needs constant supervision, it may be time to implement new hiring strategies.

When team members are able to manage their own time, they gain a greater sense of control over their work, the direction that it’s going in, and are able to think more proactively about what steps they can take to have a greater impact, both in the organization, and with the end client.

So how can you balance allowing your team members to manage their own time and projects, with ensuring that they have the guidance, direction, and leadership (management) they need to succeed?

The key is regular conversations. Talk openly with your team members about how they prefer to manage their time, how their projects should be prioritized, and how they are planning for the future. If you have established a foundation of role and culture fit, these conversations will be much easier. You will empower your employees, avoid the disengagement that results from micro-management, and build a strong foundation for great teamwork, communication, and innovative thinking.

Leadership runs along the side of the Engaged Employee Pyramid, supporting each level. Team members must be empowered to cultivate elements of strong leadership in their individual roles. As it relates to self-management, this means allowing and encouraging team members to take ownership of their projects, cultivate loyalty and trust among their colleagues, and establish strong peer-to-peer relationships.

Empowering team members to manage themselves will increase their level of engagement. It will show that you trust them to carry out their responsibilities, and help to keep communication open and honest. If self-management is modelled effectively by team leaders, team members will follow suit, and you will be able to reap the rewards of more engaged employees.