When it comes to leading your marketing team, you want to remain somewhat visible and involved. You don’t want to be that faceless person who doles out instructions and then forces your team members to fend for themselves. You’d like to be viewed as an active resource and a trusted advisor.
But at the same time, you’re worried about swinging too far in the other direction—being so heavily involved that you cross over into that dreaded micromanagement territory.
You know that if your team feels as if you’re breathing down their necks while watching and judging their every move, you’ll run the risk of squelching any and all creativity they could bring to the table.
These may seem like opposite sides of the spectrum. But, as you already know too well, they can actually provide a fine line to walk.
So, how can marketing leaders tiptoe on that line of being visible—without overly meddling? Here’s what you need to know.
The Danger of Micromanagement
Many fall into the trap of micromanaging, as it's natural to think that keeping a close eye on direct reports will result in improved performance and higher-quality work.
Yes, it's easy for leaders to micromanage—whether they realize they're doing so or not. This might explain why a whopping 80% of people believe themselves to be better leaders than they actually are.
But, giving into those natural micromanagement tendencies can have some dire effects on your marketing team, including:
- Decreased Trust: You want an empowered team. But, making them feel like your way is always the right way is a surefire way to lose their trust
- Decreased Creativity: Particularly on a marketing team, you want to be fanning the flame of creativity—not putting a wet blanket over it with your “my way or the highway” approach
- Stretched Too Thin: As a leader, you’re spinning a lot of plates. Getting involved in too many different aspects of the business will only be a detriment to you. “This hurts the business in the long run, if not the short run, too. It is nearly impossible to do the jobs of subordinates properly in addition to your own,” shares Ira Kalb in a piece for Business Insider
- Lack of Engagement and Satisfaction: A reported 70% of the workforce is actively disengaged at work, and micromanagement is said to be a major cause of that disengagement
All of these are convincing reasons to avoid micromanagement. But, it’s that last one that you should be most concerned with.
When you’re sitting at the top of the ladder, it becomes far too easy to lose sight of the things that are happening on the rungs beneath you. So, it’s unsurprising that leaders report much better job satisfaction than their subordinates in a Pew Research Center Survey:
So, are you convinced of the dangers of micromanagement? We thought so.
But, now that leaves you with a different question: If you don’t want to be a quintessential micromanager, does that mean you shouldn’t be at all visible or involved?
Striking a Balance
Definitely not. Instead, it’s really all about finding a balance that works for you and your team. However, one thing’s for certain: you don’t want to be absent.
“I think effective leaders are generally more involved,” explains Pam Kosanke, CMO of Renters Warehouse. “Not to micromanage or be too far into the weeds, but to ensure that people, strategy, and processes are connected, and that focus doesn’t get lost with inevitable ‘noise.’”
Others agree that visibility is important. “The most effective marketing leaders are visible,” adds Keith Johnstone, Head of Marketing at Peak Sales Recruiting. “They interact with various teams on a daily basis, focusing on the results of their team’s efforts. They rely on middle management to lead their functional teams, but actively provide the guidance and support requested by individual managers and team members.”
Alright, so you need to be present and involved—without being far too hands-on.
Feeling confused about how to find this seemingly impossible middle ground? Don’t panic yet. We have a few tips to increase your effectiveness as a marketing leader and help you tap dance on that fine line between micromanagement and strong leadership.
How to Increase Your Leadership Effectiveness
1. Understand Your Team
How involved you need to be will all depend on your unique team and individual members. So, the first step in becoming a more effective leader is to intimately understand what makes your marketing team tick.
“The most effective marketing leaders tailor their management approach to the situation and circumstance,” says Johnstone. “They learn and understand the motivators, drivers, and communication style preferred by their team members and adjust their management style accordingly.”
One of the best things you can do is to not just lead—but to understand how your team wants to be led.
How do you do that? There are numerous tactics you can implement, including:
- Engaging in frank and honest conversations about team goals, challenges, and strategies
- Asking employees to submit feedback surveys about your current leadership style
- Observing and listening to how your team operates and communicates with each other. This can reveal far more than you might anticipate!
- Dedicating some time for you and each team member to take a strengths assessment like StrengthsFinder so you can all understand each other on a deeper level
2. Employ Situational Leadership
Once you have a solid understanding of your team, the situational leadership model is helpful in figuring out how you should adjust your leadership approach to meet their needs.
“I’m a fan of Kenneth Blanchard’s situational leadership approach, and it has served me well over the course of my career,” shares George Schildge, CEO at Matrix Marketing Group.
If you’re unfamiliar with situational leadership, it essentially means tailoring your management style to match the development level of the team that you’re leading.
Within the approach there are four leadership styles, which are designated with a letter-number combination:
- S-1 Telling: One-way flow of information from the leader to the group
- S-2 Selling: The leader convinces the group
- S-3 Participating: The leader shares decision-making with the group
- S-4 Delegating: The leader assigns tasks to group members
The approach also outlines different maturity levels and levels of willingness to complete work. This video provides a great breakdown of the entire model:
Put simply, this approach states that there’s not one perfect leadership style for each and every situation.
“For example, if an employee is new or a poor performer, I would employ a directive (telling) approach,” shares Schildge, “If the employee is skilled and performing on task, I’m using a delegating style.”
The Takeaway: While you don’t need to commit every tenet of situational leadership to memory (unless you want to be super impressive at a dinner party!), the important thing to remember is that you don’t need to just pick one leadership style.
Different situations and members might warrant a change in your approach. Assess the circumstances and then decide on what your team needs to move forward.
3. Keep Your Eyes on the Forest
While it can be tempting to become heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of your marketing team, that shouldn’t be your core focus. Become too zoned in on that, and you’ll definitely cross over into micromanagement territory.
“Marketing leaders need to be focused on marrying company-wide objectives with campaign results at all times,” says Kosanke, “As cool as the ad or campaign is—or was supposed to be—is it actually working and did it hit the planned objectives?”
Your role likely doesn’t require you to be in the trenches handling the daily minutiae. Instead, you need to remember to step back from the trees and keep your eyes on the entire forest.
“With teams in constant plate-spinning mode, marketing leaders need to dig into the data to inform what to start, stop, or continue at all times,” Kosanke adds.
That constant emphasis on the big picture will ensure that you avoid micromanaging the details and instead keep your team on track with the overarching objectives. That’s your job, after all.
4. Maintain an Open Culture
Employees are at their happiest and most engaged when they feel like a valued part of the team—which means you should make every effort to maintain an open and honest culture where team members feel supported in coming to you with issues, challenges, and ideas.
“I personally have an open policy that allows me to gather input from the team,” Schildge says. “With this, I can gather insightful ideas from my team. The fear of failure or a team member looking dumb is never in question. In fact, I encourage active dialogue to flush out all the ideas—good and bad.”
So, how can you pull this off on your own team? “This requires fostering an environment of open communication, cross-functional collaboration, and a closed-looped feedback,” Schildge adds.
Here are some ways you can foster a more open culture on your marketing team:
- Maintain an open-door policy. You can even consider setting up regular office hours where team members can stop in for an impromptu chat.
- Hold weekly meetings where team members can brainstorm and benefit from your guidance, opinions, and contributions.
- When it fits, use the “Participating” leadership style to involve team members in decision making.
- Seek out employee feedback on a regular basis.
- Create a structure for new work so that employees feel adequately prepared and informed. “When new work comes through, it needs to be queued and organized correctly,” says Peter Moeller, Director of Marketing and Communications, Scarinci Hollenbeck, Attorneys at Law.
Need tips on creating a company culture that your people will love? Check out this slideshare:
5. Demonstrate Your Alignment
“Speaking from experience, if my team doesn’t think I have 'skin in the game,' their level of interest and effort both markedly decline,” says Moeller. “A good leader is engaged and aligned with his or her team around a strategy or project and is willing to go the distance.”
“One of the most important facets in marketing and management is alignment,” agrees Johnstone.
Unfortunately, alignment can be a real challenge for some marketing teams. Since you sit in on all of the high-level meetings with key decision makers, you understand the direction of the business. But, it’s important to remember that your team might be totally out of the loop.
In fact, in a survey of 23,000 employees conducted by Harris Interactive, only 37% of employees understood what their employer was trying to achieve and why.
You can’t really expect your team to thrive and take initiative without micromanagement if they have absolutely no clue what they should be aiming for. So, make sure to help them understand how their own work fits into the big picture as well.
This article dives into detail on that topic.
On the same token, you also need to remember to accept responsibility. The performance of your team is a direct reflection of your performance as a leader.
When stuff hits the fan, there’s no pointing fingers at team members. Because, in the end, that finger should ultimately be pointed at you. Accepting responsibility in that way will help you maintain the trust and engagement of your team.
“More than anything, a good marketing leader is a good team member,” says Moeller.
Over to You
You want to support and empower your marketing team. But, at the same time, you don’t want to be overbearing and squelch any and all creativity that could flourish.
This can be a tough balance to strike, but it’s more than doable with a little thought and consideration. To do so, effective marketing leaders need to:
- Understand their teams
- Recognize that leadership isn’t “one size fits all”
- Keep their eyes on the big picture
- Emphasize their alignment with their team and the overall goals
- Maintain an open and honest culture
Always keep those five tactics in mind, and you’re that much more likely to walk that tightrope between effective leadership and micromanagement.
Kat Boogaard (@kat_boogaard) is a Midwest-based writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. She is a columnist for Inc., writes for The Muse, is a career writer for The Everygirl, and a contributor all over the web.