One of the most exciting things in anyone’s career is that first time you get promoted to manager. Finally, a chance to show your real talents and put fresh ideas into action. And, while still bathed in that glow of success, you probably give little thought to all the mistakes inexperienced managers make. Mistakes you might also unknowingly make.
Of course, there are some of us new managers (yes, I was one of them) who do worry from day one that we might screw up big time. Or get eaten alive by more experienced employees (who were passed over for the job), now gleefully watching from the sidelines for our mistakes.
Unfortunately, whatever our level of awareness about mistakes, we’re going to make them. It’s inevitable. But knowing some potential pitfalls can help.
Let’s look at Sarah’s mistake-filled story
Sarah was hired by a major corporation to take charge of a poorly-functioning, two-person marketing shop and turn it into a state-of-the-art, fully staffed, marketing group for one of their divisions. She began the job with high hopes. So did her boss, who needed her online savvy.
Although she had good technical skills, she’d never managed a department before. And she didn’t have a clue how to do it right. Even worse than that, she didn’t understand how much she didn’t know. And she also didn’t realize how much she was lacking in communication and social skills.
What you don’t know you don’t know, you don’t know!
So Sarah rolled up her sleeves and began looking for additional tech savvy staff. She also started thinking about a full-blown plan to improve the technical resources and services. Not that she ever shared the big picture with anyone. Including her boss and staff.
A few more clues she missed
Shortly after starting work, she noticed that her boss was hardly around. So she had a lot of room to create the new department on her own. Even when he was around, he mostly just asked how things are going. And she mostly just said “good.” It never occurred to her to include him in her plans.
But she wasn’t worried, because she’d always done things on her own. She just figured she’d find a way to do the job, and check in once she had things in motion. She was a “manager” after all. To her, that meant she shouldn’t run to her boss with every little thing. Or, in her case, even some of the big things.
Through all this, Sarah thought she was a good manager. But as she blindly muddled through, trying her best to be what she thought was a good manager, her mistakes piled up. Eventually, she was let go. Here’s why …
Mistakes inexperienced managers make that our Sarah made
These are some typical mistakes newly-promoted managers often make. Sarah made them all:
1. Thinking you have to do it all yourself, with your staff just doing whatever you come up with. Also, a manager is not a dictator. They are a guide and facilitator, leading the way, while getting valuable ideas / know-how from their staff.
2. Not making former staff feel appreciated for their experience and knowledge — and not making former staff feel they’re an equal part of the new team. As in families, if you have favorites jealousy can arise.
3. Hiring new staff or enacting new policies / methods without involving or even informing other staff member(s). This is not a one-person show!
4. Worried about asking too many questions and seeming like a weak manager, many new managers decide to ask way too few questions.
5. The same goes for asking for help. You need to show you’ve done all you can under the circumstances. But coworkers and bosses are there to help. Not asking can be a bigger sign of weakness — and incompetence.
6. Not sure what to do or how to manage, you just become one of the workers. And, side by side, you and your staff deliver what’s needed on a daily basis. But the big-picture strategic thinking is missing.
7. Along with the last point, one of the biggest mistakes inexperienced managers make is not delegating well. Or at all. You can’t do it all. And you need to help your staff grow.
8. Failing to do an analysis of what’s needed to get you to your big-picture goals, and any potential roadblocks. Again, this is not something you can do on your own.
And even more mistakes Sarah made
9. Favoring your new hires over workers who were there when you arrived. Don’t minimize the importance of people who have been there for a long time — even if you need to bring them up to speed with new technology or methods.
10. Finding it hard to build trust relationships, and resenting that your new position in and of itself is not enough to prove your worth. Trust has to be earned. And it takes time.
11. Not realizing how important it is to build your support network — at all levels — from day one. This is one of the most important things any manager needs to do. And what will eventually help get you to your goals.
12. Taking it all too personally. Internalizing any initial mistrust of your skills. Or any mistakes you make. Or any criticism from your boss. It’s all about learning and growth. And resilience. Don’t complain or blame. Just see it as a chance to get better and show who you really are.
13. Forgetting to set clear goals, making sure you first discuss them with your staff and boss (for their input and any changes) before making them concrete. Your job is to communicate goals and plans well. And to check in regularly to make sure you’ve done that.
14. Speaking of communication, once again it’s a critical skill for any manager, at any stage of their career. Besides informal communication, don’t forget to set up regular meetings with individual staff, as well as the group. Different things can arise from each type. Keep agendas tight, out of respect. And encourage ideas and problem solving in those meetings.
15. And unlike Sarah, make sure you get regular meetings with your boss where you really fill him or her in. Spare them every detail, but they do need to know what you’re up to and where you’re going. And what help you need from them — including checking to see if your goals and their goals / expectations are in sync.
Some final thoughts on mistakes inexperienced managers make
I’m sure I left out quite a few things new managers might not do well. And if you have any things to add, feel free to do so in the comments. Your personal stories are most welcome.
But the main thing is that no one knows how to manage perfectly. Especially the first time you get the chance to do so. Your best bet is to remember you are not in this alone. And so be open to help from others (even your staff), as well as some coaching / mentoring where needed.
Also, corny as it may sound, the energy you put out comes back to you. So if your approach includes respect and helping others look good too, you’re off to a great start. Now just throw in a big dose of clear goals, careful planning, and frequent communication (plus some flexibility), and you are on your way to managerial success!
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