Dragan Babic enables design.

You can tell me what to do, or how, but not both

This is the main problem with hands-on managers, and the practice of micromanagement in a nutshell.

People generally have no issues with guidance, in terms of being aided with directions on how to complete a task, or which task to complete, but when these two inputs are joined together it becomes a problem.

The problem is that by setting up the collaboration with these constraints strips any control away from them, and this makes people — especially creatives — feel that their contribution is not enough, and perhaps more importantly that they are not being valued.

In my experience there are several reasons people resort to micromanagement:

  1. the manager is a domain expert themselves and because of that they have a very specific view of how the work is to be done (because they would do it in this way themselves),
  2. lack of trust in the person which is supposed to do the work, fearing that they will not deliver.

I personally believe that both of these issues can be overcame by establishing trust through clear and transparent communication. When doing this don't keep any of the work you do behind any kind of a curtain. Be transparent with your strategy and methodology about your plans to tackle the problems at hand. Keep your manager in the loop by communicating proactively and remove their need to request updates, they should come from you by default.

Be easy to work with and earn their trust.


Sometimes processes are interpreted to be “the how” in the title statement. When there's an implied priority list of tasks one needs to complete (“the what”), and there's a process in place which defines the manner of the execution, people can feel like they are being suffocated in the workplace.

When this is the case, my initial reaction is to inspect the process itself, because it may very well be the reason that's causing the suffocation. If the process is too freedom-limiting and strict, and doesn't allow people to practice a certain extent of free will in order to execute their work, it needs to be revised.


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Dragan Babic is a design consultant enabling creatively challenged organizations to nurture design, and work with design professionals in productive ways.

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