Nine Worst Mistakes of New Bosses
If you're plotting a career path that leads to a management or leadership role, you need to know some of the common errors that can hurt a new boss's reputation and working relationships. Some of these mistakes can even put an entire career in jeopardy.
Mistake No. 1: Not Establishing the Right Relationship with Direct Reports
Kevin Eikenberry, coauthor of From Bud to Boss: Secrets to a Successful Transition to Remarkable Leadership, says that clear communication is key, especially when you go from being someone's peer to being his manager. "Both parties need to talk about what they will and won't discuss, and when they will talk about certain things, and get clear on what can be expected of each other," he says.
Psychologist Janet Civitelli of VocationVillage.com adds that a common mistake of inexperienced bosses is a one-size-fits-all approach to management. "Motivation is personal,” she says. “The best bosses avoid making assumptions and instead invest effort to become acquainted with direct reports as individuals."
Mistake No. 2: Not Getting the Right Support
Michael "Dr.Woody" Woodward, author of The You Plan, notes that many people are promoted to management because they're star employees -- but that doesn't necessarily mean they have managerial skills. "Having to deal with staff, budget responsibility and performance reviews isn’t necessarily a reward," he says.
Before you accept that promotion, make sure you have the support of your managers and your company's HR department, and that you've agreed on a strategy for making the transition. Also get acquainted with your company's rules about managing people. If you think you need coaching on being an effective manager, seek it out, either through your company or by finding a book or class on management.
Mistake No. 3: Trying to Change Everything Right Away
New managers are often so excited to make changes that they want to attack everything at once, says Anne Pritchard Grady, president of HR consulting firm Acclivity Performance. “Politically, this rubs people the wrong way and actually increases the 'but that's the way we've always done it' syndrome," she says. So take your time, and make sure you're getting team consensus when you can.
Mistake No. 4: Not Discussing Direct Reports' Long-Term Goals
As a boss, it's important to understand the long-term goals of the people you lead. "Depending on how close the friendship was before, this might not be something a leader knew as a friend," Eikenberry says. He adds that helping a subordinate move toward his goals is a great way to build a strong professional relationship.
Mistake No. 5: Being Too Chummy
Developing personal friendships with employees can lead to trouble, says Alison Green, who writes the Ask a Manager blog. “As the boss, you have to have a professional distance," she says. "You're inherently on unequal footing. You're going to have things you can't tell them, you'll need to make decisions that will impact them, and you may need to give them difficult feedback at times or even fire them.” She says you can and should have warm, cordial relationships with the people you manage, but you cannot be friends with them.
Mistake No. 6: Being Too Autocratic
Jim Hornickel, director of training for employee-development consultancy Bold New Directions, warns that it can be all too easy for new leaders to abuse their power. "A consultative leader, one who develops relationships with each one of his or her team members, is the one more likely to get people to follow -- to get the work done more quickly and effectively," he says.
Mistake No. 7: Not Delivering Difficult Feedback
Green says that new managers can be too indirect about delivering criticism. "New managers who aren't secure in their authority often let their desire to be nice trump their fundamental obligations as managers, like holding the bar high and expecting people to adhere to it, warning them when they're falling short and taking action when warnings don't work,” she says. “Ironically, these managers are often just trying to be liked, but over time the opposite happens: As problems go unresolved, staff members grow frustrated and complain, and the best among them leave."
Mistake No. 8: Not Delivering Positive Feedback
In their haste to get things done and do a good job, new managers often fail to recognize employee accomplishments, says Tony Deblauwe, founder of HR4Change. “Only focusing on performance issues rather than showcasing the employee’s strengths is a common feedback trap,” he says. “Employees will come to expect that their manager is only around when there are problems."
Mistake No. 9: Being Overly Defensive
Young managers may be insecure in their authority and feel threatened by dissenting opinions. It's important to show that you aren't upset by dissent and are secure in your authority, says Green. ”You might even recognize that others’ ideas are sometimes better than your own," she says.