The 7 Common (And Totally Avoidable) Mistakes New Managers Make

Yes, you were good enough to get promoted but being a manger has challenges you never dealt with when you were an employee.

The transition to management isn’t easy. One study found it was almost as stressful as divorce.

No wonder people screw it up. But while “Everyone certainly has the right to screw up in her own individual way,” says Lindsey Pollak, whose new management book Becoming the Boss is out this month, there are also “classic mistakes” made by “pretty much everyone I interviewed.” Here’s what they are, and how to avoid them:

1. Keeping The Star Mindset

People often get promoted because they are awesome at what they do. But once you’re in management, “your job is no longer to be the star as a contributor. Your job is now to manage through other people’s successes,” says Pollak. This is a huge change in thinking, and unfortunately, many new managers “keep trying to do their old jobs and be a manager at the same time.”

The net result is that you have twice as much work. Your company may not help you figure out this new coach mindset, but the good news is that people have been writing about leadership since the dawn of the printed word. Avail yourself of this literature and you’ll figure out how to motivate others toward greater ends.

2. Doing Other People’s Work For Them

This mistake follows closely from clinging to an individual contributor identity. New managers often tell their direct reports “Let me just do this for you,” Pollak says. But if you hate being micromanaged, you can imagine that no one else likes it either, and time spent micromanaging is time not spent leading. “It’s a perfect combination of disaster, which is why so many people don’t like their managers.”

3. Not Getting To Know People

“How you begin is so important to how you’re perceived by your team,” Pollak says. In particular, “don’t hide behind technology.” While it may be easier and more convenient to communicate by email, “in managing people, that human touch is still extremely important for good things and not-so-good things.” You want to figure out what works and what doesn’t for different people, and assumptions can get you in trouble later on.

4. Calling Attention To Insecurities

You want to come across as authentic and approachable. But unfortunately, the way you do this can be a real “credibility buster,” says Pollak. If you are younger than many of the people you’re managing, you don’t need to belabor this. If you’re much older, don’t go on about how you’re bad with technology, or otherwise play into stereotypes. “Don’t sabotage yourself in a multigenerational workplace,” Pollak says. You can respect others without putting yourself down.

5. Burning The Barns

Perhaps you’ve been brought in to change things. But unless your mandate involves replacing the whole department, you’ll need to inspire people toward your vision and convince them to work toward it, whether you were their first choice for a boss or not. Honor people’s years of experience and wisdom, and listen to their advice (even if you don’t always take it).

6. Not Aiming For Early Wins

You’re in charge now. Scoring some early victories will convince your team that you’re serious about coaxing out their best work. Examples include “getting rid of an annoying meeting,” says Pollak -- one that everyone hates and has long outlived its usefulness. Or, “surprise everyone in the first meeting with breakfast.” You can even save good news for your first official sit-downs with people. The point is to start from a positive place.

7. Not Making Time To Focus

Sometimes, in trying to be accessible, new managers become too reactive. They work long hours responding to crises, but never make time for strategic thinking. A better approach is to “think of yourself as one of your managed people,” says Pollak. If you’d spend an hour a day with each direct report, spend an hour a day coaxing out your best performance, so you can address problems before they explode.

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[Photo: Flickr user Jared Tarbell]

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8 Comments

  • Probably the hardest mistake for people to overcome is #1 - it's generally easier to do a job in which you were excelling rather than working on a new skill area. As a new leader, you must remember that you were given the promotion so you could lead others in accomplishing the organizational goals.

    --

    For those looking at promoting people to leadership positions - a word of warning. Just because 'Paul' is an excellent widget maker does not mean that he will be able to lead others in the making of widgets. Your hope is that he may create a bunch of 'Pauls', but if does not want to be a leader, or has not yet developed leadership skills, or you don't have the time to properly mentor 'Paul', you are potentially inviting failure in four ways:

    (comment section not long enough - complete thought posted at http://wp.me/p3hA1M-1Ol )

  • Avoid the passive, ambiguous start- Be consistent, starting day one! Don't make your team work to figure you out, great managers share in writing and in words; what they value, communication & work style, expectations, insights from others they have worked with and a personal business experience that has shaped their career perhaps a failure that they learned a great deal from.

  • Zack Oliver

    I stand behind the idea that good managers prepare for the crisis rather than reacting to them. As an employee, it's frustrating to run into the same problem multiple times a day. It's as if the team leader wants us to only swim right where waves are breaking so that we get pummeled all day. It doesn't have to be horrible when things get busy: work is best when you are overcoming formerly formidable obstacles IMO.

  • lritzel

    Great article and based on my experience working as a digital project manager for one of the leading US consulting firms shows me day-by-day that most of misunderstandings are not of technical, language or complexity nature but simply on those fallacies, thinking errors and managemement mistakes. There is a neat app for the iphone called "management thinking mistakes app" which helps to be prepared for those thinking traps in any given situation. Check it out from the apple app store

  • Steve Kravitz

    That "surprise everyone with breakfast" idea is a really bad idea. I don't have the time to list all of the studies that show why, but suffice it to say that the author did not do her homework.