Since it seems like one of my previous posts, in which I outlined some of the most common mistakes made by first time managers (and some veterans, too), resonated with you, here’s a second installment. The first post laid out the following behaviors to avoid: 1. Sacrificing management for individual contributor tasks, 2. Retreating instead of addressing issues, 3. Holding grudges, 4. Asking team members to do something you’re not willing to do yourself, and 5. Stagnating your own growth. Let’s take a look at some additional prevalent mistakes.
If you’re new to management and have just been promoted, it’s only human to be a little unsure in your position. As a result, as new manager, you might feel threatened by high performers on the team or by anyone who could evoke the impression that you are not as competent as you appear. This fear can lead to a number of missteps, such as (subconsciously) being more critical of the high performer or not providing them with significant growth opportunities, which, of course, would not be in the best interest of the team. The best way to counteract this tendency is through transparency. First, your manager should explain why he or she chose you to be promoted to be a manager, to voice their confidence, to offer reassurance that it’s okay to make mistakes, and to set clear expectations. In addition, prior to making the promotion official, an open and honest dialog needs to occur, so that you have the opportunity to articulate any concerns, fears, or trepidations. The conversation should touch on how to overcome those things and when and how to communicate challenges. Second, both individuals should be committed to the ongoing development of you as a new manager. You would be well advised to take responsibility for your own growth by networking, seeking mentors, joining LinkedIn groups, attending webinars, exchanging ideas with peers, reading, and taking online courses.
Play the blame game
If a new manager feels unsure with regard to his or her performance, or perception thereof, it is not uncommon to want to “delegate” blame when things don’t go as planned. While, once again, this is a human reaction in stressful situations, it doesn’t demonstrate the individual’s ability to take ownership of the team and to foster an environment of trust and accountability. It is absolutely critical to the success of the department and the company in general that leaders take responsibility for their team. This includes hiring the right people (and yes, firing the bad fits), providing them with the guidance they need, setting clear expectations, and establishing an environment of trust and open communication.
One size fits all
First time managers need to have time to learn about their strengths, weaknesses, and leadership style. This can be challenging at first, especially when the team has not been performing well. A lot of times, a new manager will embrace their first wins and build on those to continue to develop their approach. Sometimes, the manager has very clear convictions with regard to what needs to be done based on their experiences with their predecessor. Whichever the case may be, one mistake to avoid is to take a “one size fits all” approach. You need to spend time with your team members in order to learn about the best way to manage each person. For example, just because you have made your open door policy clear it doesn’t mean that each team member will take you up on it. Some people simply need more coaxing in order to communicate with their manager. Similarly, different people appreciate different degrees of autonomy, prefer different types and frequencies of communication, feel motivated by different things, and need various levels of assurance. To make things even more challenging, the way that someone wishes to be managed is not always congruent with the management style that would benefit them the most. Take time to get to know each team member and find out what makes them tick and how to get the best results out of them.
Too many changes too quickly
Especially when coming into a situation in which a department or team is in dire need of “fixing”, the temptation is great for a new manager to want to completely turn things around on the first day in the new role. And in some cases, that may indeed be the way to go. However, if you don’t establish trust first by showing your team members that you genuinely care about them and understand their fears, you are running the risk of coming across as being on a power trip even when that’s not the case. People are creatures of habit, and even when things have not been going well, change is hard for most. Be sensitive to that fact. Be honest about the unknowns and about your vision and intentions.
Be too quick to give advice
When you’re responsible for the success of your team and your team members, and you’re a subject matter expert yourself, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being too quick to give advice. After all, you’ve been there and have a very strong opinion of what needs to happen. However, in a lot of cases, this can be demoralizing to your direct reports for a number of reasons. If your company values include innovative thinking or a high drive to always become better, you might be squashing your team members’ spirit by stepping in too quickly with advice. New managers should make a conscious effort to get into the habit of asking questions instead and letting their team members arrive at their own conclusions. It’s the only way to empower your people, foster professional growth, and ultimately, get buy-in for a common vision.
Think short term
Coming into a new management role can be a daunting task. You want to make an impact as soon as possible, so you can build on that momentum. As a result, the desire for the quick win can be overwhelming, and it can cloud your judgment. For instance, if you’re looking to augment your department, you may be tempted to just go with the person with the most experience instead of thinking who would be the best fit in the long term. One of the mantras I keep repeating is that you can teach someone how to do things but you can’t teach them how to be. As a new manager, don’t fall into the trap of believing that experience is more important than attitude. Always think long term.
What about you? What are some of the most common mistakes you’ve made as a new manager?