What my 4 year taught me about micro-managing

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My 4 year daughter and I were solving jigsaw puzzles, a favorite pass time of ours. We both enjoy the challenge of solving puzzles and the excitement of the success. I have a very logical and structured way of solving a puzzle; first the four corners, then the frame and finally following a color or picture, the inner pieces. So far, she had only solved 4 piece ones and her was more of a trial and error method.

That day as we tackled a new 'Frozen' puzzle set with 8,12, and 22 pieces. I decided to teach my daughter how to solve puzzles in a systemic manner. We tackled the smallest one first, and I asked her to separate the corner pieces, the frame pieces and the middle pieces. I spent considerable time in explaining to her how to recognize each piece. I then taught her how to first finish the frame, and found myself getting frustrated and irritated when she picked the wrong piece or couldn't follow my "carefully and simply explained logic". After spending about 15 minutes on a small 8 piece puzzle, I got a call and asked her to continue with the next 12 pieces one. As I took the call, my daughter sprawled on the floor with all the pieces mixed together and started solving the puzzle her own way. Soon she was humming and before my own eyes, "without using any logic or structure" she solved the whole puzzle. It took her less than 5 minutes and she enjoyed the whole process. Before I could finish my 15 minute call, she had finished a 12 piece and a 22 piece puzzle.

She gave me a mega watt smile, and after putting away the puzzle, ran off to play. But she left me with a lot of questions.."Why did I keep insisting that she solve the puzzle using my methods?", "Why did I feel that her way had no logic or structure?" "What made me think that my way was better, simpler than hers?" And the answer to all these questions was a bitter pill to swallow; it was nothing else but my ego. There was a voice in my head which said "She hasn't done this before, you have. You are good at it. Show her how it's done". Or "Your way is simpler, better, faster and it has always given you positive results. Teach her". And I also learnt a very important lesson that day; it wasn't her need to learn, it was my need to teach.

It's true that at the intention level I was thinking about her. It wasn't about belittling her or saying that she couldn't do things. My intention was to give her a skill that perhaps would help her. But I completely forgot to give her the space to try, to learn from her mistakes and perhaps then ask for support. I forgot that while I couldn't see a rhyme or reason to how she solves a puzzle, it worked for her. It gave her positive results, more importantly she enjoyed the process.

Lets use this in an office context. If you ask a person why do they feel the need to micro-manage, usually they start with denial; "I don't micro-manage, I support/mentor/I am more hands on". Or they would say "I do it when I feel the person needs help/when there isn't time to do it again/when we can't afford to make mistakes/when I have more experience than the other person". And many times all these are very valid reasons. At best a mistake may mean additional work, at worst it may mean a lost opportunity with a client or heavy monetary loss for the company. Sometimes it is also true that experience teaches you to do a certain thing in a certain way which is faster and easier and you want to share that with others.

But what is mostly true (and can be worked upon) is the fact that it is our ego which gets in the way. Our inner voice says, "I can do this better", or "My way is better". Sometimes it is our bias about the other person which makes us believe that the other person is incapable. And it is because of this ego and this bias that we find ourselves crossing the line from support to micro-management. There are a number of ways in which this can be worked on. But for now, I would want to know what are your thoughts? Do you find yourself crossing this line? What do you tell yourself when you do this? Have you had these self realization moments with your kids or in your work where you have realized that the line has been crossed? Let's hear those stories and experiences. Remember the first step is to be aware.... And the next time you feel like helping someone ask yourself "Is it their need to learn or your need to teach"?

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