Be a leader, not a babysitter!

  • Article
  • 13 January 2021

I’ve worked with many leaders in my career, executive and other, and have often heard the phrase “I really hate it when I have to baby-sit my direct reports.”


I cringe when I hear that statement.


With a desire to know more, I ask them what makes them feel that they must do that. There are many different responses, but typically they are along the following lines:


  1. “I don’t want them to fail” – Initially this seems to show concern for the employee, but underneath it all, likely shows that the leader is concerned about the blowback of a direct report’s failure on him or her.


  1. “I don’t want it to look like I’m not doing my job” – This sounds like a personal reputation or, possibly, a perception However, babysitting others likely isn’t in your job description.


  1. “I need to monitor their work so that it is done correctly” – On the surface, this looks like a control issue, but it could also potentially show a lack of trust in the individual who is doing the work.


As a leader, when you feel as though you need to “oversee” everything done by your direct reports, it usually is more about you than them. However, sometimes it IS about the individual, especially if that person is not able, willing, or ready to perform at the level that is expected. In those cases, close management may be warranted


The compulsion to micromanage, while occasionally valid in specific circumstances, is usually more harmful than helpful. This type of behavior breaks down trust, causes people to be unhappy in their roles, erodes team morale, causes the leader more stress than is necessary… and the list goes on.


Behaviors that evidence a babysitting tendency are as follows:


  • Redoing work that a direct report has already done to “make it my own.”
  • Asking team members to repeatedly revise the work product, stating “there are only a few small changes that are needed.”
  • Criticizing the individual’s work to others.
  • Muttering, or saying out loud: “If I want to get anything done right, I need to do it myself”, or asking “Am I the only one who knows how to do things around here?”
  • Constantly asking for status updates.
  • Taking over a task before your report has had a chance to complete it.
  • Discouraging others from making decisions.


When I encounter these types of leaders, my question to them is “Why do you have a team when you are doing the work yourself?” It usually makes them take a step back!


Ultimately, it comes down to trust. Many leaders who are micro-managers don’t trust their people to do their jobs. Therefore, feel they need to aggressively monitor them to see desired results and outcomes.


In some cases, it is about authority and control. The leader wants to maintain control over the employee and the situation. The leader assumes that scrutiny of the employee will lead to greater knowledge and better quality work. It’s also assumed that this level of scrutiny will allow the leader to intervene when an issue arises.


What are some ways to decrease control and increase trust?


  1. Let it go. Focusing on the minute details and making changes to an employee’s work takes a lot of time and produces little return. If there are errors that are significant, of course, they should be pointed out and corrected. If something is trivial or stylistic, perhaps you should think twice about demanding that change.
  2. Stop sweating the small stuff. When you get bogged down in the small stuff, you’re taking time and energy away from bigger picture goals and objectives that have a greater impact.
  3. Keep check-ins in check. Schedule check-ins but make them reasonable and stick to them! Don’t just drop by to ‘see how things are going.’ Frequent unexpected drop-ins make people on your team feel like they are being watched, which does not help build trust.
  4. Realize you don’t need to make your mark on everything. Employees like to have credit for the work that they do. Let them have it. It will reflect well on you as a leader.
  5. Begin It may be challenging to think about doing this. Begin with smaller, easier, and less risky tasks. When your team members step up to the plate and perform well with these items, increase the number and complexity of tasks that you delegate.
  6. Empower your employees. Let your employees take the lead on projects. Give them the freedom to make decisions without having to consult you. This creates additional risk, but sometimes people need to fail to grow and learn.


If you really want to work on decreasing control, it should be done in small steps. A major swing from being very controlling to being hands-off can be disturbing and   confusing to your direct reports – they won’t know how to react, and performance will suffer if you suddenly and completely change your approach.


Ask your people for help in changing. This requires vulnerability. Someone who is control-focused typically does not want to ask others for help. If you genuinely want to change your behavior, engage others to provide feedback and support during the time that you are making the changes. The results will be much better if these changes are a team effort.


If you truly need to micromanage, tell your people why. There are occasions where the quality of the final product is so critical that it is necessary to check and double check the product. Tell your people that this is the case, so they understand.


Letting go of the need to control is challenging. Many people believe that leaders need to be in control – of their lives, their people, and their organizations. While having 100% control is not possible and incredibly stressful, being okay with having less control and open to others’ perspectives, views and experience is freeing. Certainly, sometimes people will let you down, but consider the possibility that they will show up stronger than you think, and they will perform better than you may have thought. It has happened to me numerous times.


Some questions for you:


  1. Are you acting like a babysitter?
  2. What do you need to consider letting go of control and empower others?


Dr. Wilma Slenders PhD, PCC

Dr. Wilma Slenders is a renowned change management facilitator, leadership coach, and strategic advisor for organizations of all sizes and industries. Her insights come from over 20 years of hands-on experience and thousands of hours of teaching, consulting on, planning, and executing long-term professional leadership strategies and organizational strategies.

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