Reaching targets isn’t the only, or even the biggest, challenge facing today’s workplace leaders.
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.
Managers are responsible for time management, decision-making, team-building and managing a multi-generational workforce.
Regardless of whether you’re planning a move into management or you’ve already been there a while, learn from these common managerial errors to avoid making your own in the future.
1. Static thinking
A promotion to management means 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.
Here two common mistakes are made: 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” mind-set 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”.
The same “technical expert” mind-set 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 mind-set. 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 want 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.
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 definite idea of what they’re chasing, and how they’re going to achieve it.
How 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 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 sense of motivation and 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 work.
Ask yourself and your team how each individual objective affects the overall goal? How does each role inform the other? What is the result of good work, and the cost of non-performance?
3. Not knowing the 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.
They fail to realise that the most powerful approach to managing people 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 e-mail or a task management system – prioritise face-to-face interactions.
A 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 allows you to develop a unique relationship with each person.
4. Being reactive
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 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 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every team is different, and so requires a unique approach tailored to extracting the best from every member. Avoiding these mistakes will make the journey a lot smoother.