Dec 06, 2016

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8 Mistakes managers make (and how to avoid them)

Reaching targets isn’t the only, or even the biggest, challenge facing today’s managers. The most difficult ones often relate to managing people and optimising their work environment to encourage every team member’s best performance.

After all, numbers don’t respond to your Monday blues, but people do.

From prioritisation of tasks and time management, to decision-making, team-building and managing a multigenerational workforce, your role as a manager is multi-dimensional.

Regardless of whether you’re planning a move into management or you’ve already been there a while, learn from these common managerial errors and avoid making your own in the future.

Mistake #1: Managers who use static thinking

If you’re good at what you do, promotion to management is the natural next step – if you want to take it. Once you reach that level, however, your job responsibilities shift away from being the chief technical contributor and move into the realm of managing the success of others through their own technical abilities.

And herein lie two common mistakes rolled into one: the first relating to holding on to the role you’ll leave, and the second to the one you’ll move into. 

In terms of the role just left, what many managers do wrong is retain a “technical expert” mindset instead of adjusting to more of a “coaching” one. They continue to execute at the same time that they attempt to lead.

The result? Twice the work, half the impact, and the infamous micromanagement phrase: “Just let me do that for you.”


In terms of the role moved into, the same “technical expert” mindset accompanied by the move into unknown territory results in leading out of fear – fear that the technical skills of team members will soon rival the new manager’s, as focus shifts to coaching rather than execution.

This, of course, is not true, as management requires a very different set of skills to those of technical roles.

How to avoid it:

Make a conscious effort to shift your thinking to a coaching mindset.

But how do you do this? The first step is being aware that it’s necessary, and after that, it’s down to how much you’re willing to learn, both on the job and outside of it. There are plenty of books on leadership to choose from if you’re wanting to accelerate your experience outside of working hours.

On the job and outside of educational material: observe, learn and adjust. Identify a mentor – a leader you can mirror – and pay close attention to how they deal with similar challenges to your own. On top of that, trust your team to execute while you guide them to do their best work.

Mistake #2: Undefined goals

When you’re on the ground, it can be difficult to see all the way to the top. And that’s exactly what some managers fail to do – show their team what it looks like up there.

Think about it: how would you feel if you knew you had somewhere to get to, but didn’t even know where that place was?  Anxious, stressed, confused, unmotivated? That’s how team members feel when they don’t know the impact of their own contribution, or the end-goal they’re aiming for.

The definition of success differs from company to company and, despite the obvious monetary indicators, is not always easy to define. The manager’s job is to define overall and individual goals clearly so that the team has a clear idea of what they’re chasing, and how they’re going to achieve it.

quote 2How to avoid it:

Start with a clear definition of what the overarching company goals are. Filter those down into your own priorities, and into the broader goals of your entire team. Once you’re there, you can start to define how each individual contributes in their own capacity and so set priorities and targets for team members that align along a clear path, all the way to the top.

Reminding your team of why they do what they do gives them a strong form of motivation – purpose. It also allows you to hold them accountable for achieving those goals, because they understand the impact of their work and the detriment that not carrying out their responsibilities could have on both company targets and the ability of others to deliver their best work.quote 3

Ask yourself, and tell your team:  How does each individual objective affect the overall goal? How does each role inform the other? What is the result of good work, and the cost of non-performance?

Mistake #3: Not knowing your team

Motivating a team requires not only that you ensure individuals are aware of how their work impacts broader company goals, but also understanding, supporting and encouraging them in ways that are relevant to their unique personalities.

What some managers fail to do is make a concerted effort to really get to know team members on a personal level. They focus instead on optimising productivity through task management and success incentives because it’s easier and less time-consuming – but a vital error.

They fail to realise that the most powerful approach to managing people, when it comes to both the good and the bad, is by being human and connecting on a person-to-person level. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t for every team member is the ultimate way to optimise efficiency.

How to avoid it:

Firstly, don’t hide behind the convenience of technology, like email or a task management system – prioritise face-to-face interactions.

quote 4A simple way to do this is to have short team check-ins at your desks every morning. This is a space where team members can report on their wins, losses and current challenges, as well as what they’ll be focusing on that day. It’s a great way to get a sense of what’s going on, and what problems need to be solved.

Setting up a weekly meeting for each team member will allow you to have valuable one-on-one time. These meetings allow you to check in on how every individual is coping, give feedback on their performance, allow for feedback on your own performance and importantly, lets you develop a unique relationship with each person.

Mistake #4: Being a reactive manager

For many, it’s a natural reaction to want to solve a problem as it appears, but this reactivity can be detrimental if not focused.

A mistake made especially by new managers, in an attempt to be accessible to their team, is to work long hours responding immediately to crises, instead of setting time aside to  think strategically about what they need to achieve so that they can focus on what’s most important and so respond appropriately.

Every time a challenge is experienced by a team member, the manager quickly springs into action to clear the path. Although this might earn the immediate approval of your team, misdirected action will be detrimental in the long run.

How to avoid it:

“Think of yourself as one of your managed people,” says Lindsey Pollak, author of the leadership book Becoming the Boss. As much as you need to spend time on your team to make sure they’re able to perform at the highest level, you also need to spend time on yourself to coax out your best performance.

Make time to prioritise and strategise. Proactively planning ahead means you’ll not only be able to anticipate potential problems, but allows you to be less reactive in the future because you know to respond immediately only to top priority issues.

Mistake #5: Only managing downwards

In the same way that undefined goals can cloud a team’s view of the top, exclusively downwards management limits the team’s upwards influence. 

Sometimes, managers fail to realise the value of extending their influence into positions above their own, for the benefit of their team members. Leaders at higher levels must be convinced of the legitimacy of your perspective (which aligns to your team’s goals) so that those below you can benefit too.

The mistake here happens one of two ways: either, the manager attempts to join the ranks of colleagues in higher leadership positions and so comes across as being “above the team”, or believes they are too far below people in higher positions to have any impact.

How to avoid it:

Learn to manage up as well as down. While the way you talk and interact with those in higher positions to your own will differ from how you interact with your team, the end-goal is the same: draw optimum value from both.

When managing up, you may have to adopt a more formal tone, but doing things like referring to shared goals, talking up the skills of your own team, and humanising team members to those who aren’t as familiar with them as you are, are all ways you can extend your team’s influence to the upper echelons of your organisation.

Mistake #6: Attitude

Remaining calm, positive and upbeat can often be the most tiring responsibility of a manager, and an area where many fall short. A manager’s attitude can determine whether people feel anything from relaxed and motivated, to tense and pressured.

The mistake many managers make here is responding with emotion to the actions of those they’re leading. Whether it’s in reaction to an opinionated comment, below-par work or even the detrimental attitude of a team member, managers are consistently faced with the challenge of maintaining composure and handling every situation in a fair, calculated and professional manner.

If you’re wondering why team morale is low, take a hard look at your own approach to work – do you arrive with a smile or a frown? A “Hello” or a “Hmph”?quote 5

How to avoid it:

Unless people believe something is possible, they won’t create conditions for success, and only you, as a leader, can maintain their belief. You have to be the face of possibility.

It’s important to think about the desired environment you want to create, and be an example of that environment so that others identify with its merits and buy in to the associated behaviour.quote 6Here are some quick tips:
– After a dispute is resolved, continue as usual and don’t hold a grudge
– If problems arise, don’t ignore them – address them immediately
– Treat every team member uniquely, but equally
– Don’t let your own mood affect your team negatively

Mistake #7: Treating money as motivation

If you really know your team, you’ll likely find that money isn’t the only way to motivate them – and sometimes it may even be the wrong way.

Many managers make the common error of assuming that team members do the work they do purely for the monetary rewards. In some cases, this may be true, but for the majority of the time there are other ways to motivate.

How to avoid it:

People value different things, so by knowing your team you should be able to identify what speaks to that value, and use it as a form of motivation.

For example, work/life balance is valued highly by many. For these sorts of team members, the chance to work from home one day a week (if their type of work allows for it) could be a contributing factor to morale.

Other motivators include showing trust in an individual’s skills by increasing their responsibility, as well as privately praising team members who have overcome obstacles, made progress or performed exceptionally.

Mistake #8: Not drawing the line

It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to appear friendly and approachable as a manager, but not being professional enough can lead to complications when it comes to making those tough decisions regarding people in a team.

This can result in anything from hurt feelings to the temptation to take advantage of your professional friendship – it’s important to maintain a balance and nurture a professional understanding between you and your team.

How to avoid it:

While this doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t make friends with team members, it’s important to ensure that you develop an understanding that there’s a time and a place for everything.

If you’re friendly with your team, ensure that criticism of work or behaviour is based on solid examples to leave as little room as possible for misunderstandings. An example is the “Situation, Behaviour, Impact” approach to feedback. This approach frames behaviour in a way that highlights its impact on the person who suffered because of it, and avoids directly accusing the person who performed it, so that they are less likely to get defensive.

In simple terms: Situation is the “this is the work/task we were doing”, Behaviour is “this is the action you took” and Impact is “this is how it made me feel”.

Every team is different and so requires a unique approach tailored to extracting the best from every member. Avoiding these 8 mistakes will, however, make the journey a lot smoother.

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Filed under: Business & management