What do Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Mickey Drexler, and Jeff Bezos all have in common?
They are all builders of giant brands, from Apple, to Tesla, Space X to J Crew, to Amazon and to add more they do have (or had) something else in common i.e., an unmitigated, unapologetic, micromanager! Micromanagement is a public enemy no.1 as stated by many leadership experts but when applied strategically it can be a powerful tool to develop talent. The modern executive in B-schools is taught that to manage people effectively is to delegate and empower. But Delegating is only step one. It is not delegate and forget; it must be delegate and be intimately involved with what happens next. The dichotomy between delegation and micromanagement is false and misleading. It is not one or the other, it’s both! Being able to handle, and indeed thrive, by doing two opposing things as micromanaging and delegating at once is a hallmark of great leaders. Such leaders are deeply analytical at the same time as they are looking for creative solutions to business challenges. Micromanagers must be selective. They do not delve into the details of everything. Like, Mickey Drexler might interview every single corporate hire at the $2.2 billion J Crew, but he lets other leaders manage the IT function. Steve Jobs was intimately involved with each product the company designed and was even famously involved in designing the glass stairs at the Apple stores. But financial and operational issues were delegated to second-in-command and current Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook. Even Jeff Immelt, CEO of blue-chip industrial conglomerate General Electric, is a selective micromanager. For him, intimately knowing the top 500 executives in the company, what their performance and potential looks like and what they need to develop further, are always at the top of his agenda. That is not a bad role model for any manager, at any level. Elon Musk is a well-known workaholic, who serves as both a blessing and a curse for his employees. On the one hand, he leads by example—taking an interest in every single aspect of his projects on the other hand, his notorious micromanaging has caused some friction throughout the ranks of his companies. In addition to working over 100 hours a week himself, he’s incredibly hands-on and “obsessive about the details.” According to former Tesla and SpaceX employee, Spencer Gore, “When [Musk] involves himself in low-level details it’s to enhance execution speed. For some engineers, this can be frustrating, at times heart-breaking—but Elon’s unconventional style is what built the Tesla we all chose to join.”
In a research conducted by Google using people analytics -Project Oxygen-Do managers matter? It was concluded that the Engineers hate being micromanaged on the technical side but love being closely managed on the career side.
Thus, the best micromanagers are often the best talent developers. Their attention to detail, their intimate knowledge of the business and their deep involvement in what is going on- enables more, not less, delegation. Their position in the centre of the work creates an opportunity for micromanagers to challenge subordinates with big assignments precisely because they are informed.
- https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20131003-in-praise-of-micromanagement by Sydney Finkelstein 3rd November 2014
- https://www.one37pm.com/grind/entrepreneurs/elon-musk-leadership-style by Stephanie Maida , September 25, 2020
- https://hbr.org/2013/12/how-google-sold-its-engineers-on-management, How Google Sold Its Engineers on Management by David A. Garvin, December 2013