Don’t make these rookie mistakes.
When you look back to when you became a manager for the first time, what do you remember?
The power? Prestige? Fresh, new business cards?
Reflect a little more, and you’ll probably remember the first big mistake you made as a new manager. Perhaps, a little too clearly.
To help first-time managers avoid missteps, we asked business leaders and current first-time managers to share their mistakes when newly assuming managerial responsibilities. From cracking down on a dress code to never asking for help, here’s a few stories about what first-time managers should not do.
NOT PROVIDING DIRECT FEEDBACK
I first became a manager at 24 and had a team of 20 people. As a first-time manager, it was hard for me to provide sincere and direct feedback to my direct reports. In many cases, I used to compensate for my employees’ gaps in skills to avoid tough conversations in which I’d have to explain how they’d need to improve.
I felt it would be easier just to cover for them and do it myself. What I didn’t realize is that constructive feedback is a great tool for employees—it helps them to improve and grow. If I am not providing them with consistent feedback, then I am preventing them from being better at their jobs.
If I don’t provide constructive feedback, I am also preventing myself from growing (as I cannot delegate). Today, I believe in the Radical Candor approach (a book that was written by Kim Scott) which is best defined as the ability to challenge directly while showing that you care personally at the same time.
Gali Arnon, CMO, Fiverr
DE-PRIORITIZING TEAM BUILDING
I was in my 20s when I took my first leadership role. Unless you’ve had formal managerial training, which I did not, life will teach you quickly how to sink or swim. Assuming the other team members all shared the same desire to be in their positions, thinking that I had to be in my position was a mistake.
Oops. I learned quickly that team building was vital to empowering other members to succeed. I took every opportunity to thank a team member and recognize valuable contributions. My managerial voice emphasized, “there’s no I in TEAM.”
Linda Scorzo, CEO, Hiring Indicators
FIX THE PROBLEM INSTEAD OF APOLOGIZING
I was 22 years old, a brand-new officer, and a platoon leader in the Army. I was leading a platoon of 25 soldiers. We were out in the field doing Army things and I had the wrong time and missed the pickup of our food, so my platoon didn’t get a meal that night.
When you are out in the field, there is no option to get food any other way, so it was a big mistake that impacted all 25 of us. I apologized profusely to my platoon sergeant, who had 15 years of Army experience. I will never forget when he looked me right in the eyes and, in response, said, “Stop apologizing and fix the problem.”
I am a CEO today, and that piece of advice has never left me. Our company culture is all about trying new ideas and solutions, but if those fail, we don’t embrace excuses but actively pursue other options to fix the problem.
Dave Haney, CEO, Surety Systems, Inc.
NEVER ASKING FOR HELP
Something I wish I had done sooner was to ask for help when I needed it. I’ve been a manager for over a year now, and I was 27 when I was first told I would have to manage some people.
To avoid burnout, you really need to be vocal about when you are feeling the pressures of management. Talk to your boss and peers, as they have probably been through it, too. And just because you are in upper management doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to ask for, or have, help.
At the end of the day, you are human and experience human emotions. It’s not worth the long-term pain of bottling up your feelings when, in reality, you are supported.
Sarah Blocksidge, marketing director, Sixth City Marketing
PUSHING A STRICT DRESS CODE
Early in my management career, I had a team member who wore shorts to the office. Though our dress code was generally relaxed at the 800-person company, I wanted my team to look more professional. I didn’t care if the CTO wore shorts and flip-flops—I wanted my team to dress more professionally.
I pulled this team member aside and asked them to reconsider what they were wearing to work. Looking back, it was silly that I, as a low-level manager, wanted to have more intense rules than what the organization required. And now I wear shorts to work myself, too.
Logan Mallory, vice president of marketing, Motivosity
TRYING TO MOTIVATE EVERYONE THE SAME WAY
As a new manager, I tried a blanket approach to motivation based on my own experiences. I tried to motivate my team through what worked for me and a few other teammates. I quickly realized that our personalities and motivations were so different that they had to be addressed individually.
By proactively discussing motivation with each teammate and finding ways to build and maintain a system that works, we can keep everyone’s motivational fire burning and keep them engaged on their own terms.
Ruben Gamez, founder and CEO, SignWell
THINKING CERTAIN TASKS ARE BENEATH YOU
When I was a first-time manager many years ago, I had a big ego. I felt like I had graduated to a new level in the hierarchy and that afforded me certain privileges. So, I made the mistake of assuming that certain tasks were beneath me. I didn’t want to take out the trash or do other “menial” tasks.
Eventually, a mentor gave me some valuable advice when I expressed disdain for collecting people’s trash when the custodian was out sick. He said, “I would ask no one to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.” This C-suite executive then proceeded to collect trash from 80 people in our office, instead of me.
That was a valuable lesson in humility and it stuck with me over the years. Today, my time is more valuable working on what I excel at. But that is grounded in the humility that I will ask no one to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. Keep that lesson with you, and you’ll be a more empathetic and charismatic leader and manager.
Dennis Consorte, leadership consultant, Snackable Solutions
I became a first-time manager when I was 22, and it was both incredibly scary and exciting. I made sure to do a lot of reading on best practices for managing people. My biggest misstep that other first-time managers should avoid is micromanaging. While it may come naturally because you want everything to be done right, in most cases, this will lead to lower morale and productivity among your team members.
To start off on the right foot with my team, I tried to focus more on providing support rather than control—by setting clear expectations around tasks but also empowering my team members to be independent thinkers and problem solvers, instead of needing constant guidance or input from me.
It allowed them autonomy while understanding their limits so they could take initiative without becoming overwhelmed or feeling like they didn’t have enough room for growth in their roles. This approach helped us all become better communicators and accountable for our actions.
Travis Lindemoen, managing director, nexus IT group
NOT LISTENING TO YOUR TEAMMATES
I was 23 when I became a manager for the first time. I felt excited and ready to take on the challenge. However, I made the mistake of not taking the time to listen to my staff and get to know their individual strengths and weaknesses. I thought I knew better than anyone else, and that I could just tell them what to do. I quickly found out that this was not the case, and it caused a lot of frustration and tension in the workplace.
The biggest lesson I learned was that communication and understanding are key to being a successful manager. I should have taken the time to listen to my staff, get to know them, and understand what they needed in order to be successful. I should have also taken the time to explain tasks and expectations clearly and to provide feedback and guidance in a timely manner.
I learned that being a manager requires patience, empathy, and a willingness to learn from others. It is important to take the time to build relationships with your staff.
Dustin Ray, coCEO and chief growth officer, IncFile
A mistake I made early in my career was avoiding delegation. I was so passionate about the details and ensuring everything was perfect that I took on way more workload than necessary.
But the truth is, great management involves delegating tasks to the individuals who are best equipped to tackle the job. Whether it’s their unique skill set, their departmental expertise, or even their availability, don’t be afraid to delegate to your team. If it is within their scope, it should really be their task in the first place!
This freed up more time for me to develop strategy, manage team morale, and not get mired in the details.
Stanislav Khilobochenko, VP of Customer Services, Clario
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO
We all make mistakes. First-time managers just seem to make them more often. The key is being willing to admit to a mistake, and finding a solution.
With that said, what mistake did you make as a first-time manager? What mistakes are your first-time managers making today? And most important, what conversations will you have today to better set your workforce up for success?
Do you have an important success story, news, or opinion article to share with with us? Get in touch with us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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