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Lead by example

Georgina Fuller

Georgina Fuller on how to avoid the 10 most common management pitfalls

Going into your first management role can be exciting, but also daunting. You might find you are now responsible for overseeing a former colleague and friend, making redundancies or setting difficult new targets. You may not know who to ask about tackling poor performance or understanding the figures on that baffling spreadsheet. Fortunately, Edge is here to help you understand the top 10 pitfalls and how to overcome them.

1. Over-promising

The quickest way to lose credibility as a leader is by promising things you subsequently can’t deliver, according to Fiona Dent, director of executive education at Ashridge Business School. “It’s natural to want to get your team and other departments on side quickly by responding positively to their requests,” she says. “But make sure you know the limits of your authority and have the full picture before you make any big commitments.”  

2. Being overconfident and refusing to ask for help

New managers often believe they should ‘hit the ground running’ and be seen to have all the answers but settling into a new role takes time and effort. Executive business coach Peter Ryding explains: “Newly promoted leaders often avoid asking staff for help or advice in case it’s seen as being weak. They daren’t risk showing emotions or uncertainty in the belief that people want strong, bullet proof, superhuman leaders.” Placing such high expectations on yourself, however, can often backfire. “You end up winging it because you don’t know what to do and become stressed and worried, like a scared young child,” Ryding notes. “By all means appear strong and confident – just be humble enough to admit mistakes, say sorry and ask for help when you need it. Doing so will make your team respect you even more.”

3. Wanting to be liked

No one wants to be disliked by their team or their peers but newly appointed managers need to remember that they can’t please everyone all of the time. Sue Binks, senior consultant and programme director of essential skills of management at Roffey Park business school, notes: “It’s impossible to be an effective manager without, at times, having to make difficult decisions that are going to upset people. Many new managers will make the mistake of making decisions by thinking about the impact on their team and how it will make them feel about you.” Whilst there is no need to upset or offend employees needlessly, accept that business objectives will sometimes have to take precedence over people’s feelings.  

Simon Foster, director at Kenexa consultancy, says the ‘I’m not your manager, I’m your friend’ approach is great when you’re delivering good news but not so easy when you have to deliver a difficult message. “Often, newly-promoted managers are suddenly leading teams of people who used to be peers, which can feel uncomfortable,” he comments. “But you’ll have more respect as a manager if you are fair and objective. This means treating people equally, not having favourites, and valuing diversity in the team.”

4. Gossiping with employees

Bev White, managing director of Penna’s HR Consulting business and chair of its Career Star Group, says leaders need to recognise the difference between being approachable and friendly but know where to draw the line. “Don’t engage in gossip and ‘between you and me’ conversations. People will no doubt think your indiscretion interesting but may well be concerned about you sharing similar confidences about them,” she says. Refraining from commenting on people and sharing your views will help you build trust and confidence within your team. 
That’s not to say, however, that you shouldn’t be receptive to new ideas and listening to what people have to say. “Be open and do listen to your team. Ask them for their ideas on how to improve things and for their ideas. You will build more trust and ownership this way and unlock potential,” says White.

5. Only giving positive feedback and not dealing with poor performance

Don’t wait till you are more settled in your new role to tackle poor performance or a poor attitude. Nip it in the bud as early as possible, White advises. “Your new team will be looking to you to see if you will turn a blind eye to these things,” she comments. “Talk to team members not currently making the grade, make it clear what you expect and then provide support to help them get on track. If they can’t or won’t, then you need to talk to your HR department.”

Giving negative feedback is never easy either but constructive criticism is an essential part of a good manager’s role, Foster from Kenexa says. “Make sure that you set an expectation with your team that you will give and receive feedback at regular intervals – after significant meetings, for example,” he advises. “If your team find this difficult, challenge them to give one piece of positive feedback and one piece of constructive feedback.” Providing clear, tangible examples to demonstrate what you expect from employees, such as following up more on action points after meetings, should also help give your team a better idea of how to adapt or improve. “Stretch yourself to make sure that you give balanced feedback, with clear examples to demonstrate what you mean. This will help you give developmental messages objectively, particularly if it is as 'in the moment' as possible so that it is still fresh in the mind,” says Foster.

6. Failing to delegate 

Delegation can be a major hurdle for new managers and failing to delegate properly is a common problem, says coach Peter Ryding. “Many new managers avoid delegating because they think they can do it all, because they don’t know how or because they see it as a sign of weakness,” he explains. “Alternatively they may put too little thought or planning into delegation, failing to explain allotted tasks correctly or assigning them to the wrong people.”
Newly appointed managers need to remember, however, that they don’t have to do everything on their own. “If the CEO of a business happens to be exceptional at cleaning windows, it doesn’t mean anyone expects him to spend all day cleaning the office. Delegating is an essential management tool and is vital to be done in professional way that matches the risks involved and the skills of the people,” says Ryding.
Dent at Ashridge adds that delegating is a primary part of being a manager. “Don’t fall into the trap of taking on the whole team’s work because you feel you can make a better job of it.  Your role as a leader is to delegate the day-to-day so that you can provide direction and give your people the chance to learn and grow,” she says. 

7. Be authentic

Being true to yourself and understanding how to adapt your own management style to different situations is an essential part of being a good manager. Sue Binks from Roffey Park notes: “To thine own self be true is an old adage but a true one. You can’t expect people to follow you if you don’t behave in a way that is consistent and congruent with what is true for you, your beliefs and values.” 

Don’t make the mistake of trying to be the ‘perfect’ manager. Be yourself and ask for help if you need to. “Each of us approaches management in our own way and whilst there is a plethora of books/videos that can explain what an effective manager does, the truth is that there is no one size fits all approach to how that works in practice,” Binks comments. “Being more self-aware will enable you to read the situation and adapt your style, which will help you to be more effective and more confident in your management style as you develop.”

8. Focus more on tasks and less on people
You may have a seemingly insurmountable list of tasks to do in the first few months of your new role but don’t forget to prioritise building relationships with your team and new colleagues too. Without their support, you probably won’t be able to reach your targets. “Make building relationships a priority in the first few weeks of your new role.  Developing an understanding of the dynamics of your own team and how you can get the best from everyone is really important,” Dent from Ashridge advises. And don’t overlook the need to make connections and form alliances across and outside the business too, she adds. “Don’t just focus on the ‘official’ movers and shakers – it’s often those without the title who have the information and the influence.” 

9.  Failure to manage the expectations of your new boss

As well as having a new team, you will probably also have a new manager to report to and it’s important to clarify what they expect from you right from the start. Paul Matthews, managing director of People Alchemy, online management resource, explains: “Imagine you ask a builder to refurbish your bathroom. It’s nice to know when they will start, when they expect to finish, and if they encounter any significant problems that will affect the job. You don't want any surprises. You want to know when your bathroom will be ready.  Your boss is the same. She/he does not want any surprises either.” Find out from your boss how much information they would like from you about your activities, when they want it and in what form they want it, Matthews advises. “Check on a regular basis that your report is still fit for purpose. Your goal is to create an impression in your boss' mind of rock solid reliability”, he adds. 

10.  I’ve arrived, destination reached!

Being a good manager is a continuous journey. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have learned everything you need to know already. Be aware of the areas you need to work on and develop and make sure that you seek out new ways to learn. Consider seeking a role model or mentor to help you develop, Foster from Kenexa advises. “Seeking a coach or mentor is not a sign of weakness but a demonstration that you are taking responsibility for your development and tackling it head-on,” he comments. “Using an online psychometric test to help you understand how you're wired will also help you to understand what sort of leader you can be, what situations you may find challenging and where to focus your development.”
Matthews from People Alchemy says newly promoted managers often fail to seek out a good role model and mentor. “Many people when promoted to manage for the first time expect to manage as though the promotion itself has given them all they need to do so. Even worse, senior managers often expect people to step into a management role and be able to do it”, he says. “You need to develop your own style as a manager and that will inevitably be based on the kind of managers you have experienced. But is that a good style? Think more widely about managers you have seen in action. If you can, ask someone to act as a mentor for you as you start your management journey.”


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