Great teams need great leaders, though this can be an idealistic concept that’s hard to live up to in practice.
While we all want to be effective leaders, simple mistakes and preconceived notions can prevent this from happening.
Systematic mistakes can happen no matter which role you’re in, but as a manager you effectively set the tone for the rest of the employees around you. If you’re making these mistakes, then you might be setting the wrong example and potentially hurting the bottom line of the business.
Here are ten common mistakes that you might be making…
No one wants to be the bearer of bad news
At times, management can be a thankless task and you can’t always give out good news. When the bad news contains layoffs, pay cuts or disciplinary action, it’s understandable that new managers may shy away from communicating this.
Unfortunately, this can put a major dent in staff morale as putting off the situation very rarely makes things better, in fact the opposite is usually the case. Managers that don’t communicate with their teams will usually find that the information comes from another source, which gives them less control over how it is passed on.
No one wants to tell another employee that they may be on shaky ground employment wise or that their performance isn’t where it needs to be, but the way you approach the situation can really impact the outcome.
Being direct and respectful is vastly preferable to waiting until the employee hears about your dissatisfaction with their work through the grapevine. Remove the emotions from the context of any conversation and give the employee their time to be heard too. The rest is just practice; the more you get comfortable with the concept, the easier it becomes.
There’s no formal training offered to management
Many of the mistakes that even experienced managers make can be chalked up to a lack of knowledge.
While practical experience can be useful in the long run, this isn’t a substitute for a concrete foundation of knowledge. This can cover everything from the psychological side of people management to best practice for dealing with complaints.
Remember that as well as assigning workflows and assessing performance, the manager also acts as a representative of the organisation.
This can lead to legal action if they are found to be acting outside of employment law. What may seem like a simple request for the likes of overtime or dismissing a complaint can result in major legal issues further down the line.
Managers should have an understanding of compliant behaviour, as well as a robust HR support system too. Training in the form of an ILM Certification can allow even newer managers to act with confidence, which strengthens the management structure overall.
Feedback isn’t acted upon
In order to become a better manager that is more in tune with the working environment, it’s essential that you listen to and act on feedback. One concern from a disgruntled employee might not warrant a full shift in procedure, but it should at least be considered.
Anonymous upward feedback could highlight an area for improvement, which you may otherwise have neglected. Self-assessment of your progress as a manager is bound to be clouded, so getting clarity on the situation can be hugely useful.
This should also be a two-way street, with the manager also feeling comfortable enough to pass feedback downwards to employees. Feedback isn’t always as straightforward as highlighting an issue and allowing the employee to remedy this. Some employees require further reminders, coaching and even disciplinary action.
On either side of the spectrum, not everyone is able to take feedback well. This can be a personality issue that can be improved over time, but the first step to remedy this is to be aware of it. Some managers even struggle to take on positive feedback as they feel it’s unwarranted!
Inability to delegate tasks
Some managers get the impression that they have to be omnipotent and have a hand in every task. This isn’t the case and a lack of delegation can end up seriously impacting day to day processes. As a manager, you should feel comfortable with allowing direct reports to manage a task and then report back to you.
Creating a culture in which any co-workers feel able to come to you with issues will also ensure that you’re kept up to date with any problems and can weigh in on the solution. This requires trust between you and the colleague, something which managers can find difficult to foster.
If there are problems with the way a direct report works, as long as you have your finger on the pulse you’ll be able to remedy this in future. Having a non-confrontational discussion about your expectations and what you would like them to adjust on future tasks gives them a chance to flourish.
You don’t need to spend all your time watching or being involved in every task, you can feel free to let your co-workers get on with their tasks and coach their progress.
Neglecting training and new opportunities for staff
As a manager, if you’re not developing and finding new opportunities for your thinking performers, then you’re going to lose them. Stagnant jobs, lack of opportunities, no recognition and an absence of training are all among the top motivators for staff looking for roles outside of the company.
Valuing staff by investing in training and identifying performers in succession management plans is what will keep your best employees in your team. If your company pays into the apprenticeship levy, then you can even provide this training at no extra cost.
Enrolling members of staff in an online apprenticeship programme allows them to develop their skills around their schedule. This can form part of their personal development plan and make them more effective within their current role too.
Rigid, impersonal management style
Not every direct report will respond to your management style in the same way, sometimes a more tailored approach is required.
A portion of your colleagues may prefer a hands-off approach from management, with regular check-ins. Others may need more rigidity in their schedule, it’s up to you to understand which end of the spectrum they fall under.
This doesn’t mean that you should treat colleagues unfairly or preferentially, but you should adapt to the management persona that they respond to. This allows you to get the best out of your colleagues and direct your time to the co-workers that need it.
Again, culture has a big part to play here as you want to make it easy for your direct reports to tell you when your style isn’t working for them. There are several questions you can use to open this conversation, like:
- “We tend to check in with one another once a week outside of formal meetings, is that suitable for you or would you prefer additional time to talk through projects?”
- “[Colleague] has a lot of experience and works best when she’s given room to manage her own schedule, is that a style that you would like to implement in your working day?”
Be direct and adaptable with your colleagues, this will benefit management and the individual too.
Not using inclusive practices
If your recruitment team are scouting out diverse candidates to bring to your team, then you should be using inclusive practices to help them to shine. These diverse candidates won’t always fit into your expectations or act in the same way as colleagues.
Sometimes this means you have to tailor the language that you use or the setting that you communicate in to create the right environment.
Get the culture right and you’ll find that a diverse team can become a real powerhouse of creative ideas.
Unclear boundaries with direct reports
This is an aspect that can be particularly tricky for first-line managers that have been promoted from within, though it’s definitely not restricted to this experience level. We all want to be friends with our colleagues and be as flexible as possible, but unclear boundaries can lead to this good intention being exploited.
While managers can be friends with colleagues, they should strive to treat each direct report consistently, regardless of their personal preferences. As a manager, much of what you do is put under a microscope and fair decisions can be perceived as preferential treatment if you show favour to an employee.
For example, a colleague that you are close to requests a day off just before another colleague that you don’t mesh with quite as well.
Both colleagues can’t be off at the same time and the former colleague placed their request first, so to you it’s only fair that their request is approved, and the latter colleague is asked to reconsider their request. It doesn’t take much for this simple action to snowball into accusations of preferential treatment for the colleague that’s your friend.
In this case, you can explain your thinking, but the reality is that the people talking about your relationships with direct reports won’t come to you with this directly. If this is part of a pattern of unprofessional behaviour and unclear boundaries, then you might find you have a big problem on your hands.
Always think about how your actions could be perceived by your co-workers and make a conscious effort to include everyone in social activities. If there is a case of unprofessional behaviour, then you should be ready to ready to reassess how you treat your direct reports.
Inflexibility with colleagues
It’s difficult for employees to respect a manager that reprimands them for being a few minutes late but also expects them to stay late for a deadline with little notice. Being flexible with your employees will make them happier and more likely to help you out when you need them.
There’s a happy medium between being a tyrant and allowing your employees to manage themselves. Begin with reasonable expectations, along the lines of how frequently they can work from home or what you feel is appropriate for medical appointments without further clarification.
If an employee starts to deviate from these expectations, then it’s time to open a discussion with them. You don’t want to accuse them of abusing your policies, but you want to give them a chance to communicate about the situation.
They may have required more time at home due to a personal situation over a period, but it’s now resolved and they’re ready to be back in the office more often.
Alternatively, there may be further adjustments that you could make to make sure both parties are happy, like early finishes or flexi-time. Employees will remember this flexibility when you need them to be adaptive.
If the employee is simply abusing a policy, then oftentimes showing that you’re noticing this and discussing that they need to conform to your expectations will often solve it.
No exit interviews with departing staff
When an employee hands in their notice, this can be an opportunity to allow them to be candid about their experience. Towards the end of their notice period, they don’t have much to lose by telling you the truth so make the most of this.
During an exit interview, you might find out about organisational flaws that you can report to upper management or day to day changes that you can implement. If you don’t make the opportunity to talk about this, then you’ll never know!
Employee attrition happens but exit interviews can help you to get to the bottom of whether there are changes that you can make to reduce the rate.
As a leader, you have a lot to juggle and this can feel insurmountable. Being aware of what you can do to make the workplace better for your direct reports can reduce staff turnover and improve productivity. Step up and become a better leader to reap the rewards.