Ombud’s Corner: sowing the seeds of trust… continued

Are you able to assign tasks to your staff and then let them get on with them… or do you tend to hover over them to check on their progress? Observing and controlling supervisees too closely can be counterproductive, as it is often perceived as micromanagement and results in stifling employee decision-making, leaving them with the feeling that their manager does not trust them. 


Susan has just accepted a new position. Very quickly, she realises that Philip, her supervisor, constantly has his eye on her - observing what she does and how she does things, regularly correcting tiny details in her work and intervening with stakeholders before she has a chance to address them herself. She learns from team members that he had been in charge of her activity before his promotion. Despite being herself a recognised expert in the field, she begins to doubt her own choices and becomes timid and tentative in her work, even hesitating to take the actions that she knows have been successful in the past.

When a colleague takes over an activity from you, it is quite natural to find yourself comparing their style to your own and there is a risk that you will want to step in and do the job yourself at the first minor hiccup. It is absolutely critical, however, that you do not give in to this temptation, as this would amount to disempowering your colleague, by undermining their self-confidence and ultimately leading to a deterioration in performance. As a supervisor, moreover, you will not be able to carry out your own management responsibilities if you are constantly immersed in the technical details of each individual task, nor will you be able to develop the healthy relationships that are crucial to staff motivation and development.

Susan feels that Philip does not respect her expertise and judgement. She believes that ‘no matter what she does, it will be wrong’ and, as a result, she starts to feel paralysed and inadequate. She becomes afraid of taking initiative without turning to him for guidance.

Philip interprets this as proof that she needs to be constantly supervised and grows more and more convinced that Susan is not up to the job. They are trapped in a vicious circle of mutual mistrust.

What can you do, as a supervisor, to break out of this kind of vicious circle and sow the seeds of trust that your team members need in order to excel?

First of all, it is important to look in the mirror once again and understand what may have been the reasons that led you to micromanage your staff, albeit with the best of intentions. Is this due to a lack of confidence in the competence of your staff, a fear of losing control, a lack of experience in the art of delegation or your own feelings of insecurity? Once acknowledged, you can take a few simple steps to remedy the situation, such as proposing training for your colleague if appropriate or agreeing on a work plan that allows them to work independently while ensuring also regular checkpoints to keep you informed. A more challenging but crucial step may be in recognising shortcomings in yourself and, if that is what your mirror tells you, you should not hesitate to request some coaching or support in order to move out of your comfort zone as a hands-on technical contributor and assume the oversight role expected of a manager.

Contact the Ombud Early!


All previous Ombud's Corners can be accessed in the Ombud's blog.

by Sudeshna Datta-Cockerill