Micro-monitoring As A Leadership Style

There are many ways how to classify leadership styles. In Situational Leadership I talked about classification done by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. They introduced four styles: telling, selling, participating, delegating and I would add empowering as fifth. The most often used classification is that of Daniel Goleman that deals with six emotional leadership styles. It builds and expands on the work of Kurt Lewin who identified three basic types of a leader (authoritarian, democratic and laissez-faire).

Goleman’s six emotional leadership styles are:

Autocratic or authoritarian leaders provide clear expectations and guidance on what needs to be done, when, and how it should be done. This is very command and control type of leadership. In a modern workplace there are very few situations when this style really works and even then it is for a brief periods of time. Since it focuses on efficiency you would use this in emergency situations when things need to happen fast, there has to be no ambiguity of what needs to be done and you are the most knowledgeable person. Used long-term it creates a rather dysfunctional teams.

Paternalistic leaders are essentially father figures. They focus almost exclusively on building the relationships. They deeply care about individual team members, treat them almost like a family. The environment created under this leadership style is a great place to work. Often the team members become friends who spend time together even outside of work. This style works fine when things go well, the company is growing, and there is no pressure on delivery or cost savings. The moment environment puts the team and the leader under pressure this style often breaks since tough decisions needs to be done and expectations reset. There is also a high potential for the best people leaving the team if they see the leader treating everyone equally while not demanding equal performance.

Democratic or participative leadership is under most situations the most effective. Democratic leaders are truly part of the team. They listen to others, allow the group to participate in the decision making even though the leader still retains the final say. Since the team is involved in decision making process there is higher commitment to the common goals of the group. This leadership style is the most appropriate for most situations in a modern organization. It assumes a mature leader who is confident in his abilities, and team that is competent in what they do.

Laissez-faire or delegating leadership is almost no leadership at all. Leaders using this approach provide no guidance and leave decisions on the team. This leadership style may work for a specific situations, for example when you have a group of experts to agree on a solution to a problem that is well defined, or when the team is heavily invested in or passionate about the project. It also assumes very mature team members, experts in their fields, but at the same time willing to ask for help or direction when needed. If these basics are not met this leadership style results in a confused and directionless group where people blame each other for mistakes and where there is no accountability and personal responsibility.

Transactional leadership style can be seen as a two way agreement between the leader and the follower. This is the typical example of boss versus employee. “You do this task, and I will pay you salary for it.” This is also one of the reasons so many organizations are not able to reach their potential as they rely on managers who use this leadership style and believe that is all what is needed to get things done. This would be your prototypical carrot and stick approach to leadership.

Transformational leadership style is centered on the idea of inspiring and motivating others to direct positive change. Leaders using this style are passionate about what they do, emotionally intelligent so they can influence others and are committed to both the organization and the individual members to achieve their potential. The ultimate goal is not just to get things done but to transform the views and the needs of the team around. This is the leadership style you need to employ when you have a lots of negativity and non-performance in a team that consists of great individuals. Your role is to redirect their attention and thinking to positive outcomes and save them from self-destruction.

I’m a big believer in adjusting your leadership style to the environment, situation at hand, maturity of the team, and company culture. This if obviously rather difficult to achieve as it requires you to regularly step out of your comfort zone and act in a way that may not be the real you. At the same time I believe that as long as your core values are not attacked you can do this very well and you can be pretty authentic with any of these leadership styles.

And this brings me to micro-monitoring. At the outside it may look like a rather controversial approach to leadership but please bear with me while I explain what it all means. My goal is to show you in the next couple of paragraphs how this leadership style (possibly a combination of several of the styles mentioned above) can help you in certain situations achieve great results.

Micro-monitoring as a way of keeping focus

Tommy Weir in his book Leadership Dubai Style: The habits to achieve remarkable success talks about micro-monitoring as one of the components of a leadership style used to build the success of today’s Dubai. When you are micromanaging you essentially tell people how to get things done. We all agree that this is not particularly healthy management style in pretty much any settings (though exceptions exist). With micro-monitoring you don’t tell “how”, you tell “what” and you follow up often to provide near real-time feedback and create a sense of importance and urgency of the project and growth opportunities for the team. For this leadership style it is critical to provide a vision and clear goals of what needs to be accomplished, why, and to what date.

When trying to use this leadership style it is important to explain to your team what your behavior will be and why you will pay increased attention to results and will ask lots of questions. In fact, the really critical in this leadership style to be successful not just with delivering the project, but also in creating a healthy working atmosphere, is the mindset. You need to have the understanding internally and with the team that you are micro-monitoring not to make sure things are done your way (once again, that is micromanagement), or that you don’t trust the team. You are micro-monitoring to help the team succeed. This is a style of work that allows you to proactively and informally ensure your team stays focused on what is important so at the end they reap the benefits.

If you live in software development world and are familiar with terms like agile methodologies or SCRUM you may even argue that micro-monitoring is built into these processes. How would you call a sprint demo where you regularly show what was accomplished and allow your customer and other stakeholders to provide feedback and course correct? Even the daily stand up meetings are a way for the team to micro-monitor themselves.

What does micro-monitoring bring?

  • It creates a sense of urgency and focus – if the team understands what you are trying to accomplish and why, that will help them to focus on the right thing. This applies especially in environments with many competing priorities, where things change often, and where keeping the true north is difficult.
  • It creates opportunities for near real-time feedback – nothing beats in-time feedback. If you want your team to grow you need to provide them feedback and help them to act on it. How do you provide day-to-day feedback when you have no clue what’s going on? You need to get really hands-on, micro-monitor and then you can help others to grow significantly faster.
  • It creates opportunities to shape behavior – I know that many textbooks frown on “monitoring” and would tell you that you as a leader should set vision, clear goals, provide tools and then let the team get things done. But realistically, how often this really works? As a leader it is your responsibility to not only get things done but to build organization and help the team to be successful. Once again, the most effective way to do this is by having enough insights to know where to focus so you can provide coaching and mentoring as needed.
  • It creates opportunities for celebrating small wins – it feels good to celebrate release of a new product after years of work. It feels even better to celebrate small wins along the way. Did the team just accomplished a minor milestone, build a small features, or got a kudos from customers? Time to celebrate, time to appreciate the work done so far and build excitement for the next steps. Regular praise is a powerful way to keep the team focused and motivated.
  • It creates opportunities for course corrections – if you monitor what is being done it allows you to react in timely manner and ask for course corrections. There is nothing worse than coming to the end of the project only to discover you built the wrong thing.

What does micro-monitoring take away?

  • It could take away accountability and sense of ownership – you need to be crystal clear with the team that even though you are asking questions and want to know what’s going on it is still them who are accountable for success of the project. You are here as a resource who provides feedback, help removing obstacles and help to keep focus on the right stuff. It is the team’s responsibility to deliver.
  • It could turn into micromanagement – this really depends on your maturity as a leader. Once you know about the details it is very tempting to start meddling into “how” are things done and you end up micromanaging. You don’t want to go there if you have a strong and competent team. It would quickly lead to demotivated bunch of people who would do only what you tell them to do, while looking for another job. The best way to tackle this is to have agreement with the team at the beginning of the project, explaining them what you are doing, and giving them the power to stop you if you cross the line.

So what does it all mean for you?

The key takeaway for you is to understand that there is not a single perfect leadership style. You may believe that democratic style is the one to go with, and very often you would be right. But there are many situations when employing a different style will bring bigger benefits to you, the team, and the project. I would argue that when it comes to high-stake situations where you need the project delivered on time, where there is lots of ambiguity and competing priorities, and where the team is competent in their respective fields, using the micro-monitoring approach can provide the necessary focus and sense of urgency while having a healthy working environment. And to quote Stephen R. Covey “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”


What is your thought on the micro-monitoring concept? Does it fit your leadership style? When would you use it or do you believe that as a concept it is utterly flawed?

Photo: geralt / Pixabay.com

Categories: Leadership

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