I have a confession to make. I used to be a bad manager.
Once upon a time, a big company gave me a handful of direct reports, and I didn’t do a very good job of managing them. Mistakes were made. Harsh words were said. It was on-the-job learning at my staff’s expense, but eventually, I got better.
If you’re new to managing others, you are undoubtedly on a learning curve of your own. But what if you’ve been doing it for a while? What if you’re actually pretty good at it? Chances are, you’re still making these common mistakes.
Mistake No. 1: Ignoring your top performers
High-performing employees can create a vicious cycle through their own competence. The better they do their job, the more work they are given. And the more they find a way to get it all done, smoothly and without drama, the less attention they get from the boss.
Why? Because the boss is busy with the “problem children,” the employees who are struggling. If you’re not careful, it’s very easy to spend all of your time as a manager with the employees who “need” you the most.
This tendency is magnified due to psychological factors as well. As managers, we may not feel that we have much to add to a great presentation prepared by our best employee, which can leave us in the awkward position of moving commas around. On the other hand, coming to the rescue of someone far less able can be extremely gratifying to one’s ego, even though we might complain about having to do it.
Keep your eyes peeled for this pattern, and look for ways you can reward your best people with both tangibles and intangibles, like your attention. Make sure your most valuable assets know their efforts are seen, noted and appreciated.
Mistake No. 2: Helping your employees
Wait, isn’t helping your employees a good thing? Not always, and not even most of the time.
Helping your employees is only a good thing the first two times on the same matter. By the third time you’ve helped your employee with the same issue, you’re crossing over into a rut of dependency. If you have been “coaching” one of your people on the same topic repeatedly, your first job is to stop. Stop hoping that they’ll “get it,” stop wishing that they’ll change, stop spending your own working time doing their work.
Instead, take a step back, and figure out which managerial decision needs to be made. Does this person need to be retrained on fundamentals? Does this person need to have his job redefined? Or do you, the manager, need to solve the problem at a deeper or higher level by creating a checklist or process chart, or purchasing new equipment or software? Pick a bullet, then bite it.
Mistake No. 3: Modeling the wrong behavior
You’re probably saying all of the right things to your staff. But are you leading by example? For instance, you may tell your employees it’s important to keep their skills up to date, but when was the last time you invested the time and money to learn a new skill or attend an industry conference? Perhaps you want your sales reps to be out there networking, but how many mixers and meet-ups have you been to this quarter? Or do you tell your employees to stay home when they are sick but insist on soldiering into the office when you have your own case of the sniffles?
Managers are people too, and we each have our own imperfections. The trick is to make sure you are setting a good example in your key actions. One IT executive I know would make a big show of going home at 6 p.m. each night, because he knew that no one in his department wanted to be perceived as leaving “early.” Sure, he’d go home and burn the midnight oil, but he made sure to provide the most powerful permission he could to his employees to leave at a reasonable time – by going home himself.
If any of these mistakes rings a bell, take heart. Good managers inadvertently commit these errors all the time, but once you realize where the stumbling blocks are, you can make a different choice and evolve to the next level of leadership.
Jennie Wong, Ph.D., is a Charlotte-based executive coach and the founder of www.CartCentric.com, a friendsourcing tool for online shopping.
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