How To Be Hands-Off but Not Aloof as a Manager

This page contains pointers to help you maintain effective managerial control over staff whilst not being considered overbearing.

A reputation of being a micromanager is difficult to rub off without a new start at a new workplace. To those you manage, evidence would be secondary to feeling, and them feeling you breathing down their necks can be felt without much evidence.

Managers can fall into traps as they attempt to escape being labeled micromanagers. An unbalanced aversion to that label creates a reputation of being aloof; not possessing direct knowledge of work being completed and unable to drive toward solutions.

Aloofness lives on the opposite pole to micromanagement. A manager who is wary of micromanaging to an unhealthy extent can cause damage to team progress. Communication degrades across the whole team with an aloof manager. Problems tend to adopt reluctant owners when they’re managed by someone too distant to assess employee interest and skill. Work is shared inequitably under aloof managers, and issues between team members can spiral to create incompatible combinations and toxic work environments.

Being hands-off to the point of detachment is thereby worth avoiding as a manager. It hurts progress. The right balance of trusting staff while maintaining control over them – and processes they’re a part of – is important to strike.


Self-Study Is the Cost to Being Hands-Off

Being considered a hands-off (yet effective) manager comes with perks with a price not many consider. The act of being hands-off comes with necessary compromises that need to be made. The first, is a state of being less studied on the day-to-day thoughts and feelings of your employees. Hands-off managers provide freedom for their employees at the cost of receiving less information from those same employees.

A principal cost to attempting on being a hands-off manager is narrowing the channel of incoming information flow from your employees. Not only do your employees see you less when you maintain a hands-off reputation, you get fewer glimpses into their world too.

The lessened flow of incoming information presents challenges in knowing what those you manage focus on, and difficulties they undergo.

The hands-off manager has the responsibility of remaining up to speed with the tasks, milestones, and challenges their employees are exposed to. This responsibility involves initiated self-study, genuine interest in the tasks that you deploy, and the adoption of a student mindset around staff who are directly involved in the work you delegate.

The micromanager label is avoided by first holding yourself accountable in studying the specifics of what each and every staff member is working on. The dedication to be a student of others’ work will encourage your inputs to be beneficial, discourage the cold feeling of you looming above one’s shoulder, and align you to be seen as a genuine team member.

Managers who take the time to understand, track, and empathize with tasks they delegate on their own time show respectable initiative. When it comes time for check-ins, touch-points, and formal meetings, showing that you’ve thought and studied the issues your staff are tasked with solving will be met with warmth and cohesion.


The More Infrequent Your Check-Ins With Employees Are, the Better Managed They Should Be

Getting on a call and generally asking, “So, how’s it going?” after an absence from the details as a manager isn’t much better than micromanaging. Improper management of staff check-ins is another pitfall that self-touted “hands-off” managers fall into. Managers are often socially pressured to keep things short and distant in order to keep the label of “micromanager” at bay.

An overlooked consequence of keeping things short is a lack of perceived support. Placing the onus on your employees to speak up when they need help or have an issue to be resolved creates pressure. Your check-ins with your employees thereby need to lower, not raise, barriers to their expression of issues or difficulties. That’s done by way of detailed and contextual inquiries that lead them half-way to expressing an issue or concern.

Not only should your check-ins be rooted in self-study as a hands-off manager, they should also be managed in a way which encourages subordinates to express detailed concerns. Cold-opening, overgeneralizing, and being detached from the points they note will result in check-ins that don’t yield much progress.

When it is evident that a manager is too detached, subordinates are likely to feel alone and unsupported in their bouts against barriers. They will not perceive raising their hand and expressing difficulties to be worthwhile with an aloof manager because they’d first need to educate, and only then express their concerns. An aloof manager thereby makes it laborious for subordinates to express concerns and provide accurate information at check-ins.

Your check-ins should thereby aim to hit on detailed topics in a timely manner whilst opening the floor for subordinates to provide context. Your job is to take those you’re checking in with half-way to any pertinent conversation topic. Don’t allow yourself to open up check-ins with a general, “How are you?” or, “Anything I should know about?”


Keep Your Door Open and Have Chocolates on Your Desk

An approach which can rival micromanaging in gathering information is making those you’re managing volunteer that information rather than pester for it. Ideally, the information you lose out on by not micromanaging needs to be gathered somehow else. If employee relations is an important metric, then positive reinforcement of their voluntary acts seems to be the only choice.

Leaving the door open and baiting with chocolates are metaphors for positively reinforcing contact your employees initiate with you. Doing so will widen the channels by which information flows toward you.

Your hands-off efforts should never feel as efforts to be missing from conversation through your employees’ eyes. Rather, encouragement toward, and positive reinforcement of contact initiated by your subordinates with you will position you to complete managerial tasks effectively.

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Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims. Please critically analyze all claims made and independently decide on its validity.