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The Big Difference Between Micromanaging and Appropriate Questioning

By John Pearson

While I’m a big believer in ongoing research, I don’t need a high-priced researcher to answer this question:

QUESTION:
What do nonprofit CEOs whine about the most?

ANSWER:
Board members who meddle and micromanage.

Now before CEOs cast all the blame on one or more dysfunctional board members, please note that sometimes CEOs and senior staff invite those board members into the weeds—unwittingly. Staff that deliver board reports with TMI (too much information), data-heavy PowerPoints, or nagging problems—with no recommendations—are often too tempting for some board members: “Everyone—grab a rake and start weeding!”

Warren Bird, ECFA’s vice president of research and equipping, recently reminded me about Ram Charan’s helpful insights in “How Do We Stop From Micromanaging?” (see chapter 13 in Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask. Read my review here.)

Ram Charan gives these guidelines for appropriate questions in the boardroom:
• “The difference between micromanaging and appropriate questioning is not always a bright line. What really defines micromanaging is not whether a director [board member] is digging into details. It’s really a question of which details and for what purpose.”

• “Is the director making a small point, like nit-picking expenses? Or is the director drilling down into the details that help reveal a higher-level issue—detecting a structural change, getting at the root cause of a problem, or questioning the effectiveness of a process?”

“Asking questions of an operating nature is not in itself micromanaging, as long as the questions lead to insights about issues like strategy, performance, major investment decisions, key personnel, the choice of goals, or risk assessment.”

Charan also notes that “not all directors are self-aware.” So when Into-the-Weeds Syndrome is alive and dysfunctional in your boardroom—share this wisdom from Ram Charan and facilitate a healthy conversation on the difference between micromanaging and appropriate questioning.

Consider aligning this discussion with one of your organization’s core values or a Scripture that speaks to the value of listening to the counsel of others, such as Proverbs 11:14. Or, share the “Delegation Prayer” from Richard Kriegbaum’s powerful book, Leadership Prayers, including this:
 

“By your grace, my leadership will either
enhance or restrain the work of your Spirit in those who lead with me,
making them more effective or less effective.”


BOARD DISCUSSION: What guidelines should we adopt so, in most cases, we can agree on the difference between micromanaging and appropriate questioning?

MORE RESOURCES: Rich Stearns shares wisdom on helping board members avoid the weeds in his guest blog, “
Apply for a Staff Position and You Can Deal With That Issue

 

 

This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.

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