Common mistakes of first-time managers

Failure sounds like a harsh word.

To create some context around this idea, let’s define failure as anything short of the desired or imagined or hoped-for response. Managing and leading humans is a difficult undertaking, so it is very reasonable to expect the experience of first-time managers to fall below their own expectations.   

Failure for the new manager is typically accompanied by feelings of disappointment and stress. Perhaps even the thought, “What have I gotten myself into?”

Even more important, the actions of the first-time manager almost always fall below the employees’ expectations. Employees wait with trepidation to learn what their new manager will bring to the table. “Will this be good for me? Not good for me?” More often than not, employees experience at least some disappointment in the transition.

Fewer than half of all new leaders are intentionally groomed, developed and prepared for this important new role. An assumption is often made that because this new manager has always been a high-performing individual contributor, they’ll do just fine.

It is fair to say most new managers don’t know what they don’t know. 

Mistakes new managers often make:

1. They believe they need to prove their credibility.

New managers believe their credibility comes from what they know. As a result, they talk at their employees, tell employees what they should be doing, and find comfort in ensuring their credentials, experience and knowledge.

Correction: Recognize your credibility will not come from what you know but from how much you care, how many questions you ask and how willing you are to learn from your team. They want the assurance that you are interested in their knowledge and contribution, more than in your own.

2. They get to work too quickly.

Many leaders want to jump right in to the work at hand. They begin making to-do lists, strategizing and prioritizing. Some of this is driven by their desire to impress their own leader.

Correction: Take time to get to know your new team over the first couple of weeks. Schedule a team meeting, followed by one-on-one conversations. “Tell me about yourself and your role on the team. What do you enjoy about your role? What do you not enjoy? What do you do well? What do you not do as well as you’d like? What are your goals?”

3. They stay entrenched in “doing” mode.

The new manager will often be more comfortable working on their own to-do list than in the nebulous world of providing leadership to their employees.

Correction: Schedule time for proactive and intentional leadership. Work with your team to know what they need from you. Have time allotted for team meetings, one-on-one conversations, “office hours,” visibility, etc. When we talk about scheduling leadership, many leaders, in fairness, do not know what that even means. It is all about being available to your team.

4. They misunderstand and mismanage power.

Too many leaders bring ego to the role. Employees are not impressed by power, by your degrees and by your past roles.

Correction: View yourself as the fortunate individual who has the opportunity to work with people and provide guidance for the work being done. Send a message to your team of, “Hey, I’m no better than you, and, by the way, I happen to be more interested in you than in myself.”

5. They try to have all of the answers for their team’s issues.

Jumping up and sharing the solution is tied to the need to prove credibility. “Let me show you how smart I am.”

Correction: Ask your team, “What do you think we should do?” “How would you handle this?”

6. They take credit.

It is not unusual for a new manager to sit in team meetings with his or her peer group, sharing things like, “I did this,” or “I have a new initiative I’m going to put in place.”

Correction: In as many situations as you can, you want to give your team credit. They are intended to be the power behind any progress you make. “We did this,” or “My team and I have talked about a new initiative we’re going to put into place.”

What mistakes have you made? How can you correct these?

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Aleta Norris is a partner and co-founder of Living As A Leader, a national leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. Living As A Leader supports the development of leaders in more than 125 organizations across the country. For several years, Aleta has been researching and speaking about the critical responsibilities organizations and leaders share related to the attraction, retention and engagement of the emerging workforce.

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