3 min read

How playing 'reverse jeopardy' helps eliminate micromanagement

Oct 28, 2021 8:20:55 AM

As a leader you want performance from your people. Performance means very little however, if it is not sustainable.

Driving your team to hit an objective is good. In fact the most accepted definition of leadership within organizational psychology is, “a process whereby an individual motivates a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.” 

However, do you want your people to be able to achieve a goal, or do you want the achievement of goals to be a consistent occurrence? Pushing your team to hit their quarterly numbers, only to have them too burnt out and depleted to perform during the next quarter is a flawed strategy. 

It is also a common one.

The conventional approach to leadership is extractive. Leaders harvest effort and emotional resources from their people in service of the organization.

All this has left us with is an 85% employee disengagement rate$1 Trillion in voluntary turnover costs per year, and the lifespan of the average S&P 500 company shrinking from 56 years to less than 15 years in the past four decades.

So much for sustainability.

Leadership can go from extractive to renewable. Work can become a place where people go to have their cup filled instead of emptied. 

Standing in your way is a little something known as micromanagement.

The most powerful psychological driver of both job satisfaction and affective commitment (working hard because one wants to) is autonomy. Autonomy is the experience of operating from choice as opposed to feeling pressured to act. Take away a person’s choices, and you remove their feeling of autonomy, decreasing their job satisfaction and level of commitment in the process.

Now while this can get quite complex, here I offer a simple technique I call ‘Reverse Jeopardy’ that can help you eliminate micromanagement entirely.

To play Reverse Jeopardy you need to understand two things:

  • A) the difference between being a leader and being a manager and;
  • B) the basics of the gameshow Jeopardy.


Managers answer questions, leaders question answers. Ponder that statement for a minute and you will understand the difference between management and leadership. When you answer someone’s question, you take away many of the choices they can make. It is easy to become over-prescriptive and not only tell someone what needs to be done, but exactly how to do it. Each choice you take away, no matter how helpful you think you are being, removes a bit of autonomy, leaving this person feeling as though they are being micromanaged. 

If however someone comes to you with a potential answer, you get to question it. You get to ask them how they arrived at this answer. This creates an opportunity for them to discuss the choices and decisions they made to come up with the answer. Even if you ask them to go back and change their approach, they have experienced autonomy, and are thankful for your direction as opposed to feeling resentful because they feel controlled.

Now, if you have ever watched Jeopardy you know that contestants must phrase their answers in the form of a question. Reverse Jeopardy means you are going to request that your team start phrasing their questions in the form of an answer.

Rather than saying, “Can you tell me how to do this?” they are going to say, “This is how I think I should do this.” They will have exercised their ability to choose before even coming to you, creating autonomy.

Autonomy and micromanagement cannot exist in the same time and space. There is a reason why the word ‘micromanagement’ filled you with enough of an icky feeling that you clicked on this blog to learn how to get rid of it. There is also a reason why you have never heard the phrase ‘microleadership’.

Now, the only way this works is if you’ve made an investment in psychological safety within your team. Psychological safety is, “the belief a team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking such as providing feedback, asking questions and owning mistakes.” If your people are afraid their attempt at an answer will make them look foolish, they will not bring you answers.

If you’d like to learn the degree of psychological safety you have in your team click here to book a call with me. I will administer a psychological safety survey for your team at absolutely no charge. I will also run free Behavioural Profiles on your entire team so that you can learn your team’s ‘Colours’ to better understand how each individual experiences safety.

We are on a mission to scale empathy in the workplace and are willing to do whatever it takes to help.

Including questioning your answers regarding your own leadership.

Shane Wallace

Written by Shane Wallace

Shane is the Founder & CEO of CultureSmith Inc. He works with leaders and teams of high-growth organizations to help them overcome the behavioural and emotional issues that prevent their growth. Leveraging the CultureSmith Growth & Sustainability Framework, Shane helps demystify the the theories of Psychological Safety, Emotional Intelligence and Servant Leadership to turn companies into places people care about.