Leadership

Five mistakes managers make most often

Some management mistakes are so common that you can actually compile them into a list. If you're a manager struggling to find out why your team is dysfunctional, take a look at the behaviors in this list and see if any look familiar.

Some management mistakes are so common that you can actually compile them into a list. If you're a manager struggling to find out why your team is dysfunctional, take a look at the behaviors in this list and see if any look familiar.

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Some management mistakes are so common that you can actually compile them into a list. If you're a manager struggling to find out why your team is dysfunctional, take a look at the behaviors in this list and see if any look familiar.

  1. Not communicating with the team. I know, I know, you've seen the advice for communicating so often you want to smack someone. I want to smack myself for saying it so often. But you know what? Unless you're on the front line heading into a military battle, you have to take time to communicate with your team members. You don't have to pass on every shred of information you've gotten from upper management on a new initiative, but you have to give them enough information to know why they're being asked to do what they're being asked to do. The more information your team members have, the more ownership they'll feel in the process, and the better they'll perform.
  2. Continually focusing on the negative. Thinking in negative terms is a common result from working in a reactive environment, which IT tends to be. In that environment, IT spends most of its time keeping the negative to a minimum with goals such as decreasing network downtime or putting out fires. A good leader has to make an effort to recognize the positive. (How about mentioning increased uptime?) Recognize your people for the forward progress they make and not just for their efforts to keep things from getting worse.
  3. Changing policy due to one person. The term "team" makes some managers think they have to treat everyone the same way. This is true in many cases, but if one person has a performance issue, don't take across-the-board measures to correct it just because you're afraid of confronting that one team member. If one team member is failing to complete some duties in a timely manner, don't introduce a policy forcing the whole team to submit weekly progress reports. Deal only with the one with the issues.
  4. Not understanding the needs and concerns of your team. Some IT leaders find it virtually impossible to tell their bosses that something can't be done. The team's bandwidth or overall state of mind takes a backseat to real or imagined glory of being the guy who "gets things done." Good managers don't over-promise on their team's behalf.
  5. Never admitting you're wrong or never taking responsibility. There's risk involved in being a manager of a team. And that risk is, if your team fails at something, you should and will be the one held accountable. It doesn't matter if one team member screwed something up; your job was to manage the overall process of all the team members, and you didn't do it. So suck it up and own up to that. On a related note, if one of your actions caused a kink in a project, admit it. It's ironic but not owning up to a problem damages your credibility with your team more than simply saying, "I was wrong."

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Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

46 comments
shah_d_gr8
shah_d_gr8

a very interesting and 100% practical topic.

Techtoo
Techtoo

I guess, for completeness, you should follow up this article with a list of "5 mistakes subordinates make to their managers"

dia1
dia1

The mistakes that managers make very often are: 1.forget to check capability 2.do not declare salary openly. 3.do not discuss work clearly. 4.ill-treatment towards workers. 5.delay in distributing wages. --------------------- Dia find finance jobs

dragosb
dragosb

Do we, as project managers, really care about our team members? emotions? Take a look at a project plans and listen the discussions about project status. What is the term we use to describe a person? RESOURCE! How many of us are thinking not at two resources, but at two people with the same skills, one of them just having a fight with his girlfriends. We talk about Emotional Intelligence and we are wondering why the RESOURCES hate the PMs!

fhawkins
fhawkins

Nicely done list! Regarding #3: Changing policy due to one person, not only throws frustrating barriers in front of non-offenders, but also can be a sign of unhealthy conflict avoidance. If it is not a problem that can be fixed by training, get comfortable giving feedback that focuses on the negative effects of the employee performance problem. The goals of the feedback are to set problem ownership with the problem employee and get them to change their behavior. Don't end the discussion until the employee admits it is their problem and clearly commits to changing specific things. Action items for change should be the employee's "to do" list and not the manager's.

sboverie
sboverie

Great list, these mistakes seem to be designed into managment. One suggestion I read was that it is better to be proactive more often than reactive. Since car analogies are so popular here; being reactive all the time is like driving and focusing on the conditions of traffic, road conditions and weather rather than knowing how to get to the destination. Another stretch of the analogy is if you know there is a detour or potholes ahead, then you can take action to avoid those problems. IT is dynamic and it is too easy to get caught up in the moment of crisis and lose sight of goals. Being on defense constantly reduces the chances of achieving the goal.

MyopicOne
MyopicOne

Extend #4 - I have worked for a few managers/directors/VPs who didn't know or understand the business or regulatory requirements for the work we did. And no amount of explanation could overcome their ignorance - "why can't you just do this?". Very skilled at practicing #5, too. One of their standard responses to getting pushback from staff for unethical conduct was 'Get over it'. Steve Romero is absolutely right regarding trust...

asixto
asixto

This is not so much of a mistake but equally as frustrating for a middle manager, is when upper management undermines your efforts or completely bypasses you to reassign resource you have assigned to critical task. I think this is more prevalent in the SMB space where the management structure is much flatter. I especially like #3, happens all time in my environment I especially like #3, happens all time in my environment.

rrickett
rrickett

One of the biggest issues in our organization is having a non-technical person managing a technical group. If I am doing a technical presentation, my manager insists on seeing the slide pack primarily for the purpose of checking spelling and format. Font size is more important than technical content it would appear. This manager also gets upset if you leave 5 minutes early but says nothing when you leave 30 minutes later. Very difficult to work with or respect a manager who functions this way.

MeezerW
MeezerW

The GOVERNMENT needs to adhere to this list!

Lianardo
Lianardo

Along with #1: communication; Often my manager gives me quick e-mails of requests, but the information is so vague (as if I can read her mind and garner the specifics) it usually involves me having to run downstairs and talk to her which only sometimes fixes the problem- and wastes a lot of time. Managers, and people in general, need to learn not only WHAT to communicate, but HOW.

shivlu.jain
shivlu.jain

really nice points highlited. regards shivlu jain

emphron
emphron

For me, the biggest management mistakes are about values not skills. That means: * integrity - tell the truth, my team knows when I bullshit; * respect - My team is made up of real human beings with legitimate needs and anxieties, and real skills. * listening Managing is not about getting people to realise my vision, it is about facilitating a collective vision; * humility - only the Pope is infallible and even then only when speaking ex cathedra (literally out of his seat). Most people who think they are infallible end up speaking out of their seat. * resilience - managers cop more crap than anyone else. People will say things to and about their managers that they wouldn't dream of saying to a co-worker at the same level in the hierarchy. That is an inevitable consequence of the differential in positional power, I have to get over it and get on with the job.

ascott
ascott

Managers should remember we all work to the same rules. If a manager regularly leaves half an hour early he cant complain if someone else is 2 minutes late.

Bob Oso
Bob Oso

Well put, it appears to me that all recognize that promoting someone because of their technical skill or knowledge doesn't assure a great manager. The shortcoming of most private sector companies is that there is very little in the way of training, especially leadership training. I think that this is true regardless of the industry; it is a rare company that recognizes the importance of not only promoting from within but making sure that individual has the correct training to be a sucessful leader. Too bad most companies don't take a cue from the military.

mobrien
mobrien

I thought it odd that #1 was all outbound only. A good manager has to listen, too. Half-duplex mode usually works the best. ;-)

pwoodctfl
pwoodctfl

If you are getting the job done and the result is observable - the report is largely irrelevant - although having some record of how something was done successfully can be useful. If the job is not getting done, the report that contains the excuses is largely irrelevant unless it contains action items to get the project back on track. I usually go for results first, reports to follow approach, but too many people that I work with produce copious reports and hold endless meetings, procucing very little except output that says they haven't gotten the job done yet (possibly because the clock is being consumed with reporting and meetings). The worst are status reports.....What does 75% done mean? Look at it from the perspective of "What is 75% alive mean? "90% real?" What is the difference between making it 90% over the Grand Canyon and 75% over it? The answer is absolutely NONE. It is still going to hurt if you if you run out of rope. It really doesn't matter why (poor planning, vendor delay, miscommunications, lack of coordination)...if you don't plan to fix it....don't bother telling me about it. If you plan to fix it....stop planning and start fixing. Then tell me about it....with your results.

beechC23
beechC23

I will always remember the lesson I learned from a colleague many years ago. We were at a weekly product complaint review meeting which really was the weekly "assign blame" meeting. Each product designer had to stand in the spotlight while our boss chewed him (we were all "hims" in those days) out over the alleged mistakes. The first designer had gone up and skated out of control trying to justify his mistakes and our boss kept getting angrier and angrier. Then no. 2 designer went into the hotseat. His response to being challenged about an alleged mistake? He replied "What can I say Klaus, I f****d up!" Watching poor Klaus was like watching a ballon that just got deflated. After that everyone was able to move on to finding a solution rather than trying to defend one's honour...

xaria.sg
xaria.sg

I feel most important quality for a manager handling a IT team should be problem solving. If the manager always asks you to google for solutions then obviously it builts up frustation for team members. if the manager is not technically sound he should have a strong player in the team who can take over the problem solving

Subject Matter Expert
Subject Matter Expert

i must say all the IT manager/leaders looks into the negative side always, which makes hard for the entire team. having said this, every one would agree that point # 3, is absolutely critical and henceforth no ones does that mistake.

cupcake
cupcake

...we can call it #7... is micro-managing. To have your manager constantly quiz you on the status, review your work on a semi-minute basis, second guess your every move is a big one. Managers should manage the people and/or the project, not the work that the team does.

PM III
PM III

All true, but I think the biggest mistake (#6?) I've seen managers make is taking on a subordinate's responsibility "because he isn't getting the job done right". That's the sign of a poor manager and unless he "gets it right" himself for his job he is doomed to failure. Part of a manager's job is to develop his team, and that means helping them to correct their own deficiencies. The five you listed can only happen if he is a good manager to start with.

erh7771
erh7771

...and it has nothing to do with thier skill level in leadership. A good tell for me is looking at the way managers treat people that aren't relevant in their day to day.

pwoodctfl
pwoodctfl

I can be guilty of violating these rules, especially by being more directive with my subordinates than I would ever dare to be with a peer or a superior.....I am taking this as my career objective of the week. Thanks!

tuomo
tuomo

Hearing the manager to say or to report time estimates without any idea of the problem and / or how to solve it or, as usual today, no clue of resource estimates, capacity planning, etc, except what a canned Excel (whatever!) tool / toy they are using says! And, as has been said, the delegation and negotiation skills in team and between departments, organizations, with customers and vendors, etc have almost disappeared (not valued today?) Thinking that agile, ITIL, etc (in IT) are strict step by step rules from some book or paper instead of guidelines are norms now even for managers who previously have used natural skills in several successful projects / tasks. Sad!

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

After all if you reported the results, people woild know something was wrong, and questions would be asked, like WTF, do you like your job and so forth....

MSM
MSM

that usually means they already know the answer and are annoyed that you came to them with a problem that you could have Google'd yourself... I cannot tell you how many times I've said "you're sitting in front of the internet - look it up!" or "do I have 411 tattooed on my forehead?"

pompeychimes
pompeychimes

My last Manager was such a micro manager he ended up taking over every project. He'd even get on support calls and take over troubleshooting efforts. The worst part is he is a good guy. He was just never meant to be a Manager. Its unfortunate but to succeed in the corporate world you sometimes have to move into management even if its not the right fit for you.

g01d4
g01d4

Unless the job is particularly menial. The Dilbert Principle's been around for over ten years now.

ThreeLittleBirds
ThreeLittleBirds

Your statement is true in many cases but is not universal. I'm a manager in an environment that handicaps me due to personnel rules that protect long-term employees, even the salaried exempt who have little protection under these rules. I inherited several employees that had a mentality of "I've done this series of jobs for over 20 years, so don't change a thing." My senior management at the time had fostered this attituded and prevented me from doing anything about it, other than maintain the status quo for that group of people. On certain tasks, I either had to do the work myself or delegate to one of my staff that had higher initiative. Either case was unfair, to me and to the employee to whom I assigned the work. When senior management ties a person's hands this way, there is little else to do; especially in my case where I really enjoy my career with this company, except for those certain staff members.

erh7771
erh7771

...via, coaching, patience, allow for mistakes in plans, hiring engineers\scientist first etc have been the biggest stumbling blocks to my career and others. It doesn't matter what level but in IT, medical and other science careers poor management is illuminated.

ns.grady
ns.grady

Going on from PM III's comment, I have worked from the ground up over various industries for the last 30 years. Having recently being kicked back from "middle-management" I have to agree with the sentiment of being a good manager to start with, in that I feel good managers are born to lead and no amount of training or experience will make them one. I think a lot of it has to do with a person's psychological profile and and life philosophy. Winston Churchill was born to manage as was Maggie T or Hitler for that matter. There was,as history recognises, good and bad in each. Bottom line. Don't appoint someone because you think he can do the job. If someone is true management material chances are you'll see it in a socio as well as business environment. To appoint a good manager you really should take time out to learn who and what they are, their philosophy if you like. Asking peolpe's opinions before appointing can often save a lot of heartache and adverse performance issues down the line. The other common mistake I see a lot of businesses make is to appoint people to high position based on their ability to make tough decisions in tough times. But again as history shows, there is a fine line between autocratic decision making because, a decision needs to be made or deciding to take a safer route that whilst it may not promote the business as effectively at that moment in time, at least it will manage the situation effectively that the business as a whole can live with as an integrated unit.

sidekick
sidekick

It gets even worse when the manager doesn't even say anything to the subordinate until after the task is complete.

mag7ue
mag7ue

I think I disagree with your definition of "success." I consider being a manager my calling - I enjoy every aspect of it, and have been told I'm good at it. But since that's definitely not true for everyone, there has to be a measure of success for those who, as you say, are not meant to be managers. I believe it's actually one of the most common failures of upper management - promoting people to management just because "they're good at their job." There's a lot more to being a good manager than simply knowing the job, and it's a continual frustration to me seeing how many people are in management for just that reason.

sidekick
sidekick

I recently had a discussion with someone where the other person basically said that people can't change, that they may improve for a while, but will eventually slump back to where they were. I think that is true for some people, maybe most people, but I believe that if someone is committed to developing their management skills, that person could become a good manager.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I ended up with a lot of engineers as bosses. I had one who'd bashed together a couple of noddy C programs, and wrote an access form. He did get it eventually after I showed him a circuit diagram for a hand lamp, and then asked if he needed help on the isolation and control circuits for a 33kv transformer. Analagy can be a great tool.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

"I'd rather have a good technically clueless manager , than a good tech who can't manage." Where I work currently, we have an IT type who is more technically competent than I'll ever be. But at one point the company made him a departmental manager, and it was a terrible mistake. He turned a well functioning department into a shambles. Now I like this fellow, a lot. Personally, he's quite likable. But as a manager, he pretty much sucked. His people skills, OTJ, are all but non-existent. He does not communicate his thoughts well. Oh, he can do at adequate job of telling you exactly what and how he wants you to do something. But lacks in explaining the goals and visions and the "why" of it. Not good when you come to something he had not previously detailed out to you, step by step. You either had to stop and take the time to have him set up detailed guidance on how he wanted that thing done, or risk making your own decision as to how to proceed. Taking the later course of action was discouraged by him, quite unconsciously I think, by his normal reaction of getting visibly agitated, his muttering something along the lines of, "Ohhh, Jesus CHRIST ! No, NO, NOOOO ... this is how I want it done." And he'd sit there and redo it himself. Would tell you, "Never mind, go back to something else, I'll take care of this." Or, he'd just have you stand there feeling like a dummy while he corrected or changed whatever. Now, he wouldn't hold it against you. But the fact is his method of handling such situations discouraged individual initiative, he almost never got around to explaining his thoughts and methodologies behind why he wanted certain things done certain ways, and so forth. So things got to where if someone came upon a situation where detailed instructions on how to proceed had not been laid out as concerns that item ... work came to a sudden halt. Until he was personally summoned and provided guidance. HIS guidance. As most working for him felt that the ONLY acceptable way to do anything, was HIS way. Also, the vice versa of that occurred. All of us make mistakes. Including managers. In this fellow's case, when he was in error, many of his subordinates would just shrug when they saw that and instead of bothering to bring it up, ask questions, etc ... they'd just do it. Even when it was clearly wrong. Net result, this fellow spent MOST of his time doing things, or redoing things, his subordinates should have been doing. Dealing with trivia and small details rather than managing a department. He was also not good at communicating up the chain to his bosses. The guy simply is not good at explaining some highly technical concepts in language and terms that a non-technical upper management could understand. I won't bother to get into his failures as concerns time management, being able to keep focused on the "big picture" instead of getting deeply involved in minutia, poor budgeting skills, etc, etc. In any event, the company finally acknowledged their mistake. Didn't fire him, had a long talk with him, and put him back to work in a position he was best suited for handling, as a technical specialist. OTOH, at one time we got a new manager in one department, who nearly what one might call technically clueless. He had a science and technology background. But a general one, whereas his department was one that dealt with a highly specialized area. AND his background in science and technology was that of a fresh college grad. Meaning ... he was pretty clueless as to how things really worked and got done in real life. However, before going to college he'd been working for several years as a general construction laborer, who'd quickly rose up to a foreman position as he'd shown good abilities at management and supervision. At first, we had some issues with him. That is, his nice new shiny sheepskin had him sort of convinced he actually had a clue about the technical side of things. His minor had been in computer science, his major in industrial technology. He'd previously gotten a 1 year certificate in Management. We had a few clashes, between himself and several of us who worked with/for him. Finally I and some others convinced him that he wasn't gonna be a tech guru, give it up. He needed at least another 10 years to play that game adequately. As I told him at one point, his college professors had not even taught him enough for him to realize just how much there was that he did not yet know. He finally got the message, took about a year. The "kid" (he was in his mid 30's) was just gung ho. He WANTED to make a difference. He was just trying in the wrong way. He finally did the smart thing and asked, "Okay guys, WHAT can I do to help us be a better department?" Oh, he got his ears full. What we wanted and needed was a MANAGER. Keep upper management and the execs off our backs and out of the way. Tell us what was wanted in terms of goals and overall visions ... WE could translate that into the details of exactly how to get there as concerns the technical stuff, better than he could. But we needed to know what the target was. Do the planning and coordination needed for us when we had to deal with other departments. Handle the problems we were having with vendors and suppliers. Make sure we knew and understood the current priority list. Manage manpower and time. Nobody ever had enough of either, it was his job to keep track and to make decisions about who got some extra help, what items could be delayed and which should get more immediate attention, etc. So on and so forth. He took the hint and took up the ball and made his home run. Instead of getting too deeply involved in technicalities he'd ask, "What are your issues? What do you need to finish this up on time and to spec?" He learned, over time enough of our specialized jargon so we finally got to the point of not having to draw him simple little pictures. Mostly. Although occasionally he'd need to exercise a little patience and have to play the Q & A game, where he'd have to ask for an explanation, then come back and ask for clarification on some part or parts of that explanation for which he did not have the technical background or hands-on experience to understand. And, at times, he accepted the fact that he'd not likely ever understand in detail, he'd just know that X can't be done this way. Or shouldn't be done that way due to whatever reason. Technically, he sucked. As a manager, he was outstanding. He could communicate well, up or down the chain. He could plan and organize. He looked ahead and tried to plan for contingencies. Importantly he could convince his people that he was there to support them and was good at motivating them in a positive way. He gathered loyalty. When things went wrong HE took the hits and the flack. Etc. Not to say he couldn't chew a little a** when it was called for. He could and did, when it was needed. But when that was done he went through the effort of making sure yah understood where you'd gone wrong, EXACTLY. Then told yah to get back to work, that he appreciated and applauded your efforts ... EXCEPT for the whatever goof up you'd made. "Just don't do that again." I miss the guy. Unfortunately, he was hired away from us. I think our company made a mistake there.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

There's no way any single person could keep up to date on development, admin, hardware, even in terms of just what's going on at their place, never mind the wider world. If you have a techy in place, they get deeply involved in the detail and forget to manage the big picture. If you have a non technical manager who won't trust their people with the information and the authority they need you get a disjointed screw up. Communication is obviously valuable, but you have to communicate the right things, and as a non technical manager, you may not have ability to decide what to filter out, but many choose not to bother their people with something they deem irrelevant. Course the other way way you do littel else but be communicated to, is just as bad. Don't talk at, talk with. I am not a manager, I'm the guy who deals with the consequences of my own and their failures.

my_tom_a
my_tom_a

There are several functions and roles a manager will play and skill sets that will accommodate those roles. What is it that needs to be managed? Is it people, projects, business functions, or business processes? I agree with your statement and having people that are good at technical function does not qualify that person as management material. Often though, people are put into managerial positions in which they do not exemplify the technical background needed to make effective decisions. A manager in no way should step in and do the job for their team, but they should have an understanding of how the job should be done and what are efficient methodologies to performing that job. I work in an organization that is restructuring the Information Systems Department into the ITIL framework model. There are managers of people, of functions, and of processes. Some of these managers have never worked with the technology they are managing or have never been in a managerial role, but the decision to place people in these positions were based on a skill set they demonstrated that matched up with the role definition for the managerial position. Some skills were defined as being more technical vs. people oriented skills. However effective communication is a skill that every manager must demonstrate; no matter what role it is they manage. I believe there is more value in having a manager to be an effective communicator than tech-savvy.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Several people have tried to persuade me into it, a catastrophe that would border on biblical. The thing that p1sses me off more than anything, is the move from a technical job to a management one is described as a promotion, whereas in fact it's a career switch. I'd rather have a good technically clueless manager , than a good tech who can't manage.

MSM
MSM

As a manager, I am particularly susceptible to point #6 - taking on tasks myself rather than letting the team members do them and risk them either not completing the task or doing it incorrectly... but when I am allowed to choose my own team members based on what I perceive in their skill set, I can assign and delegate with confidence. When someone else saddles me with a team in whom I have no confidence, I am reluctant to take the risk of seeing if they can ride the bike without training wheels...

PiGuy314
PiGuy314

I'm not sure the personality is per se set in stone. I took the Meyers-Briggs personality test in high school and then again a number of years later after being in management for several years and I found that my Thinking/Feeling score went more towards thinking and I actually switched on one of the dimensions from a Perceiver to a Judger, which is a more management oriented trait. So I think people can and do make minor personality changes based on their day to day lives, like becoming more organized or methodical or learning to empathize.

beechC23
beechC23

People don't change *personality*. Some folks have a personality incompatible with being a manager; I had a passive-aggressive control-freak for a boss once. No amount of "skills" could save this guy from himself and us from him. Now people can and do learn new *skills* every day and many management tasks are in fact skills, not personality traits, such as learning to write and balance a budget, etc. Our basic personalities, however, are pretty much set in stone in childhood. Changing patterns that are related to that is extremely difficult and we often do fall back into our normal patterns especially when stressed.

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