In addition to our formal education and training, we learn a lot about management on the job. We watch our mentors and our bosses to understand the “right” way to do things. Whatever our experiences in the trenches, they will likely shape the practices we employ at work—some good, some maybe not so good.
Regardless the size, industry, or specific corporate culture of your business, if you want to succeed as a manager, you should strive to avoid the following “management no-nos”—10 things a manager should never do.
1. Don't create a policy every time somebody messes up. People make mistakes. Don't overreact. Sometimes people make big mistakes—like getting distracted on the Internet when a friend sends a link to an online game or accidentally hitting “reply to all” when sending an icy e-mail. It's usually a one-time goof-up. Get over it.
You don't have to build another wall around Fort Knox just because somebody accidentally took a paper clip home. Have a productive one-on-one conversation about what went wrong, what problems it caused, what the individual should have done (or not) and why. Use questions to make it a learning moment for the employee so that he or she can figure out how to fix it.
2. Don't lie. In other words, don't distort the truth, withhold information, or make things up—even if it's for a good reason. Strive for transparency: if you keep employees in the dark they won’t trust you. When something isn't working out, say so. When things are going well, let people know. When you have concerns, share them. When you need something done by next week and you're worried it won't get done, discuss the situation with your staff. Keep them apprised of everything going on, within legal and privacy parameters. Have the difficult conversations and be straight with people about what's on your mind. Just don't try to manipulate people to control their behaviors or feelings.
3. Don't hide behind policies or senior management when you have to be tough. If an organizational policy makes sense, stand by it and explain why. If you believe something is unreasonable or unwarranted, say so. If you feel an employee's request for an exception is reasonable, go to bat for him or her. If you don't think the point is worth the battle, explain why you feel that way. Take a stand, provide the reasons behind your decision, then stick by it.
4. Don't spy on your employees. Don’t keep close tabs on them by using cameras, special computer equipment, or by following them around to make sure they're doing what they're supposed to be doing and not violating any policies. Teach and nurture principles of commitment and trust. Deal with violations, but don't throw everyone into jail just because there's a possibility someone might make a bad decision or because of a past problem.
5. Don't be a pest. Don't delegate minor tasks and then micromanage the person by constantly looking over his or her shoulder, and don't be in a rush to take away responsibilities as soon as there's a problem. Instead, empower people to succeed. Delegate broader responsibilities while providing clear direction and training on the “how,” “what,” and “why.” Help people develop personal accountability.
6. Don't threaten people. Using threats and intimidation in any form is a sign of a weak leader. An effective leader knows how to build team and individual commitment by creating a positive work environment that invites people to engage with energy and purpose. You can discuss employee accountabilities and consequences, both positive and negative, without making threats.
7. Don't demand the impossible. Don’t force your staff to do a physically impossible task just because your unreasonable boss pushed it onto you. Find ways to manage the demand by negotiating with your boss and committing to appropriate outcomes. Then provide the resources and support your staff needs to meet and even exceed commitments.
8. Don't ask employees to do anything unethical. Don’t put people in situations where it's hard for them to do the right thing. Never ask them to do shoddy work, ignore a defect, fudge a report, or mislead others. Stand by your employees. Believe they want to do excellent work and to feel good about the organization. Be principled and committed to the greater good.
9. Don't make people choose between their families and the jobs. Don’t be inflexible when it comes to sick leave and other HR policies. When you refuse to be flexible, don't be surprised when people violate policies. Instead, find a way to inject common sense and humanity into decisions about time off. If an employee was especially close to a deceased relative, give the employee the same consideration for attending an out of town funeral as you would if it were for the employee's parent. If an employee just joined the company, let him be at the hospital when his baby is born without having to worry about losing his job.
10. Don’t ask for a lot more than you give. For example, don't beat up the employee who worked through the night to finish a project on time when she comes in a few minutes late. If you want strict start and stop times, make that clear and enforce it on both ends. If you want employees to step up, take responsibility for achieving organizational goals, and work late to get things done, don't nitpick about start times. Instead, have a conversation about what's really important, how start times support it, and what time commitments and expectations are necessary and relevant.
Trying it on for fit:
—Review the list of no-nos and determine where you stand as a manager
—Designate those you definitely don't do and give yourself a “smiley face” for each.
—Mark those you definitely or partially do with a frown face and think about why you do them.
—Make an action plan for changing each frown on your list into a smile. If your reasons for committing a no-no behavior are due to company policies or leadership’s expectations, make a plan to request a change or exception to those policies. If your actions are simply the result of a practice you picked up from a previous boss, or something you developed on your own, develop a plan for changing the behavior.
—Even better, ask employees for input on what they would like from you instead.
©2011 Ascent Management Consulting, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.