Management training at most companies is a one-day seminar — if you’re lucky. As a result, a whole lot of new managers go directly from staff to boss, without much preparation in between. The situation creates a lot of opportunities to make mistakes — ideally the kind you learn from, not the kind that derail your career.
The only upside is that you, as a new manager, are hardly the first person to be in this position. Learn about the mistakes others have made, and you might be able to skip right to the part where you look like you know what you’re doing.
Mistake No. 1: Trying to be everyone’s best friend.
If you ascended from the ranks, it’s only natural to have a few uncomfortable moments when you realize you’re the one who’s supposed to tell people what to do. Don’t let that discomfort encourage you to pull a Michael Scott and insist on being best friends with your colleagues.
Your reports don’t need a best friend; they need a manager. That doesn’t mean callously pursuing the company’s goals at their expense; in fact, one of the most important things a manager does is support their team’s individual career aspirations. But it does mean understanding that you’re going to have to make unpopular decisions. Don’t invest in being liked. Invest in being effective, supportive, and honorable.
Mistake No. 2: Confusing authority for leadership.
Technically, your team has to do what you tell them to do. In actuality, they’re not going to do it very well if they don’t feel inspired.
The way you motivate employees is by setting goals and boundaries and then being worthy of trust. This means doing what you say you’re going to do, giving clear expectations, allowing people to meet those expectations without micromanaging them, and being willing to change your mind when you receive new information. All the job titles in the world can’t give you more authority than a team who genuinely believes in you.
Mistake No. 3: Letting the problem children dictate the tone of the team.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as they say, but you’re not operating an oil change station. Some of the best employees are often opinionated, stubborn, and insistent on their point of view — but that’s very different than an employee who complains constantly and contributes little.
Differentiate between people with strong opinions and people with negative energy. The former will give you some of your best ideas; the latter will drag everyone down with them.
Mistake No. 4: Doing everything yourself.
Especially if you’ve moved up within an organization, you might have a few tasks in your unofficial job description that are less managerial and more reflective of your previous role. Minimize that as much as you can by delegating to the appropriate team members.
But that’s not the only way in which you can wind up doing work that’s best delegated to others. Watch yourself for the tendency to take on extra tasks because “it’s just faster if I do it.” That might be true — today. But in the long run, it’s always more efficient to train others to do things themselves.
Mistake No. 5: Listening too little… or too much.
The best managers are good listeners. You never know where the next big idea will come from or when you’ll learn about a potential problem — hopefully in its early stages, when you can do something about it.
But having an open-door policy can’t mean literally leaving your door open 24/7 (or 8/5, if you’re good at work-life balance). Plan one-on-one meetings with your staffers and keep them. Make yourself available to listen on a regular basis otherwise. But set boundaries to protect your head-down time as well, even if that means blocking off time in your calendar to simply get some work done.
You can’t focus on your team if you’re mentally obsessing over your rapidly growing to-do list.