Mistakes even smart bosses make.
Even the smartest managers make mistakes. No matter how many management or leadership courses you’ve taken, you’re bound to have a few blind spots.
“The toughest promotion in the world is the first promotion to management,” says Mark Horstman, co-founder of Manager Tools, a management consulting firm that owns a popular business podcast by the same name.
For one, many managers land the corner office because of technical skills, not people skills. What’s more, many managers are never formally trained for the role. One day you might be a Web designer for a hot new social media site, and the next day your boss may declare, “Here’s your team, go to it!”
Luckily, you don’t have to learn all your lessons from the school of hard knocks. We asked three leading management consultants to talk about the top blunders even smart managers can make. Some you may recognize, but some you may not. Many managers make these simple mistakes—which can lead to big problems—without even realizing it.
The Blunder: You don’t know the strengths and weaknesses of your employees.
The Fix: Know thy staff. “At Manager Tools, we recommend meetings called ‘One on Ones.’ Once a week managers need to sit down with each one of their direct reports for a half-hour, face-to-face,” Horstman says. The employee gets the first 15 minutes to talk (it doesn’t have to be work-related, but it usually is), and the manager asks questions during the final half of the conversation—what the employee has been working on, what their week has been like, whether the employee has questions on a project or if they’ve encountered hurdles. “There’s no way a manager can know the underlying strengths and weaknesses of their employees by chitchatting with them throughout the week,” Horstman adds.
The Blunder: You expect your staff to be mind readers.
The Fix: “The obvious answer is to say a boss should stop and put themselves in someone else’s shoes,” says Madeleine Homan Blanchard, co-founder of CD2Leadership & Coaching Services, a division of The Ken Blanchard Companies. “But people who make this mistake need a tool to change.” To paint a clear picture of how to successfully complete a task, she recommends that you describe all the who, what, why and hows of the project, including scope, how long you think it will take, due date, end results you expect, possible resources and potential obstacles.
The Blunder: You don’t reward employees for a job well done.
The Fix: “Managers need to get better at catching employees doing a good job and quickly saying something to reinforce it,” says Bob Nelson, best-selling author of 1,501 Ways to Reward Employees. “It’s a real skill for a manager to notice when someone has done a good job—offered good customer service, been a team player or accomplished a specific result. As a manager, you’ll get more of the behavior that you notice, recognize and reward.” Why is it so important? Nelson’s research reveals only 12 percent of employees say they get recognition for a job well done, a factor that is the No. 1 reason why people leave their jobs.
The Blunder: You hesitate to offer feedback when employees make mistakes or display a poor attitude.
The Fix: Address performance shortcomings, bad attitudes or misconduct quickly—before these problems become serious. For example, don’t wait for an employee to show up late for work eight times in two weeks to offer feedback—or, even worse, note it in an annual performance review. Keep in mind the purpose of your feedback is to steer your employees back to satisfactory job performance, not to punish them. “You don’t have to call your employee into your office or schedule time with them,” Horstman says. “It’s not a 15-minute meeting. It takes five seconds. You simply approach your direct and say, ‘Can I give you some feedback?’” He suggests simple feedback, such as: “When you’re late, I worry about you. Can you get to the office on time?”
The Blunder: You don’t delegate.
The Fix: Routinely delegate portions of your job—whether it’s running a meeting, managing a project or giving a presentation—to team members who can take on the responsibility. “The great organizations of the world know it’s far cheaper to grow people you’ve already hired than to hire new people for new responsibilities,” Horstman says. “Plus it’s always dangerous in an organization—no matter how big—when only one person can do something. Right now managers go on vacation and they’re checking their email constantly because the people who report to them can’t do any portion of their job. So the manager actually can’t go on vacation, and that’s dumb.”
The Blunder: You’re putting friendship before leadership.
The Fix: “Employees need to be able to relate to their manager and to feel that their manager actually cares about them,” Blanchard says. “But managers sometimes have to push, poke, prod, pull or shove people where they aren’t always comfortable to accomplish a goal. Managing that polarity can get really tricky. You need to send a message very clearly: ‘I have your best interests at heart. But my job is also to uphold the greater good of the organization. As much as I would like to always be on your side, it won’t always be possible.’”
By being aware of these potential blunders and the best ways to correct or avoid them, you can become the manager that your organization needs and that your employees want to work for.
Lori K. Baker is an award-winning journalist who specializes in human-interest profiles, business and health. Her articles have appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, Arizona Highways and Johns Hopkins Health.