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  • Writer's pictureDr. Cristina DiPietropolo

Undermanagement vs. Micromanagement: How to Avoid the Double-Edged Sword? Part 1

Introduction

Most managers in high-performing workplaces showcase a wide range of personalities, and such diversity often extends to their team management styles. The two most common styles of managing teams are (1) undermanagement (one that takes a hands-off approach to management) and (2) micromanagement (one that just can’t trust their team and needs to maintain control).


In other words, these are two extreme ends of the spectrum that hardly get a job done efficiently. Hitting the right balance is critical to a team’s success as it allows leaders to empower their teams and keep them moving forward. So how can a leader or team manager find the balance between undermanaging and micromanaging? In part one of this two-part series, we’ll examine the pitfalls of undermanagement and tips to overcome it. Let’s get started!


What is Undermanagement?

To put it simply, undermanagement is the “lack of direction or guidance from a leader.[1] The manager or leader, in this case, showcases a hands-off approach to management and often fails to communicate or provide clarity to the team. Undermanagement is a success-crushing syndrome that eventually leads to teamwide confusion, poor performance, and inefficient use of available resources.[1] 


An article by Harvard Business Review explains that undermanagement can often go unnoticed. These types of leaders can “fly under the radar because the managers who have these tendencies are not necessarily incompetent; on the contrary, they often know their business well, are good collaborators, and are well-liked.”[2]

What are the common sources of undermanagement traits?


1. Poor communication or lack thereof

Individuals who undermanage are known for poor communication. They fail to achieve transparency within the team and do not provide consistent and adequate feedback to the team members.[1] Moreover, they often avoid having difficult conversations and leave the team blindsided — degrading much-needed trust within the team.


2. Inadequate one-on-one interactions

Leaders who undermanage have a poor sense of priority. They do not make it a priority to learn more about their team members or even get to know them outside of the workplace.[1] They fail to recognize the importance of consistent one-on-one interactions with their team members and never/rarely provide employees with a confidential space to share feedback, either positive or negative.


3. Need to be liked

Most leaders who undermanage have an unending need to be liked by everyone on the team.[1] This type of behavior has the potential to cause leaders to engage in poor decision-making, such as being influenced by their team to pursue a course of action which may not be the best strategic choice for your organization.  Worse, these types of leaders may become reliant on the opinions of others[1] and might even think providing extreme autonomy to team members is a great way to lead.


4. Undermanagers lack self-confidence

Leaders who don’t believe in themselves often find it difficult to lead people in the workplace. Such leaders are hesitant to speak up, take risks, or make decisions.[1] They disguise their low self-confidence with their easygoing attitude in order to feel loved in the workplace.


5. Failing to delegate tasks

To appear as a strong team leader, leaders who undermanage fail to delegate and achieve accountability in the workplace. These types of individuals will often say, “Well, it will just be quicker if I do it,”[1] while simultaneously complaining about their workload.


6. Avoiding conflicts in the workplace

Leaders who undermanage avoid conflicts and would rather accept an underperforming team to avoid open disagreements.[1] Such conflict avoidance often converts into passive aggressiveness within the team, which shows its ugly face in the most unexpected ways. Leaders that undermanage fail to use conflict as a means of addressing a problem area, let alone find a viable solution. These types of leaders do not recognize that conflict within a team if managed properly, can be effective if your team knows how to “Fight Right!”


Let’s be honest, when it comes to inefficient team management, micromanagement gets most of the blame! Organizations have not yet recognized the influence and danger zones of undermanagement, which is the flip side of micromanagement.[2] One HR executive estimated that 10%-25% of managers in their organization were considered to be undermanaging.[2]


How do you deal with this situation? In Part 2 of this series, we will discuss the significant pitfalls of undermanagement to team effectiveness and share tips on how you can overcome this as a leader and in your organization.


Dr. Cristina Rosario DiPietropolo is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Leader Essentials Group, an executive consulting firm specializing in strategy execution and leadership development strategies. She has extensive experience across multiple industries and is highly skilled in the areas of strategic planning, organizational behavior, human resource management, change management, leadership, and digital marketing. Over twelve years of teaching experience as a Professor of Management, with a special focus on organizational behavior, leadership, human

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[1] Patton, J. (2023). Council post: Is your manager failing you? how to identify and address undermanagement. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2023/02/08/is-your-manager-failing-you-how-to-identify-and-address-undermanagement/ 

2 Lipman, V. (2018). Under-management is the flip side of micromanagement - and it’s a problem too. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2018/11/under-management-is-the-flip-side-of-micromanagement-and-its-a-problem-too

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