174 - Do you work in an organization where everybody works one level lower than they should?


career designleadership and org culture

Micromanagement tends to roll down. Everybody works one level lower than they should—this is the cascade of micromanagement. Your boss’s boss meddles in your boss’s work; your boss does your work; and you do your report’s work; and so on.

To have this fixed, everybody needs to level up. But no one can until space is created at the very top. So the fixing has to start from the top. When your boss's boss steps up a level, your boss steps up into the gap that emerges. That allows you to move up, and so on.

If you’ve ever refurbished your house, you would know that tradesmen have a pecking order. The architect will command more than the contractor who charges more than the electrician who asks for more than the plumber who asks for more than the painter. If each of these guys worked one level lower than they should, you’ve got two problems at hand.

You’re overpaying the whole lot of them. Across the board. They’re advertising a certain grade of services and delivering a grade or more lower. Their work satisfaction aside, you’re overpaying them.

You think you’ve it all covered but you’re missing the captain of the team. There’s a hole at the top.

This is the employer’s problem, the founder’s problem if you may. Most of the time, you’re likely to be an employee.

Imagine that you are. To be able to do the work that you actually signed your employment contract for, you need a promotion. That is not possible because, as things stand, your boss is doing exactly that so you have to first fire your immediate boss for that. So, you spend an awful amount of time managing up in your efforts to get back your original job.

There’s a psychological cost to this too. You’re fighting not to fulfill your highest potential, captured by self-actualization needs at the top of Maslow’s pyramid, but to meet your self-esteem and belonging and safety needs further down the pyramid.

In a way, the leveling down in the organization brings about a leveling down in your attention in your own pyramid of needs. You’re less happy, more stressed, and often confused (“Am i stepping on my superior’s toes or am I shirking work?”)

The leveling down in such an organization has to start at the very top. The boss of all bosses—the CEO?—has to take charge. They have to step back and raise their gaze to the level they should be. Where they have been sucked into mouse vision, they have to lift themselves to eagle vision.

Sometimes, though, the leveling down doesn't need to start at the very top. There’s one managerial layer somewhere in the hierarchy that is the cause of this micromanagement malaise. Someone somewhere in the chain likes to run what they call a tight ship; they have taken an interest in the minutiae of their reports’ work. Even then, I would argue, it is the job of the micromanaging manager’s boss or someone further up the chain to spot the problem and take corrective action to stop the cascade from rolling downhill.

You probably have heard career advice that says that as a boss you should work to make yourself redundant. You should groom your reports to take over your job so that you can do your boss’s job, and so on. That is well-intentioned but approach with caution. Look around you first. Does your org structure and culture allow it?

You first have to play the game that is being played around you. If you play it well and you’re lucky, you’ll get to play the game you want to.

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