Seven Dumb Manager Mistakes

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020

You're in a meeting with one of your direct reports and you glance down at an incoming text while the employee is talking to you. Dumb! Or you bark, “Just get it done!” to your team and then walk away. Dumb!

According to a recent CareerBuilder poll, 58% of managers received NO training before starting the job. That lack of preparation often results in avoidable management missteps like these.

Of course, even smart, well-trained managers make dumb mistakes. However, the difference between dumb managers and smart ones is that smart managers notice when their salespeople are unmotivated and their workers are uninspired. Smart managers work at making small behavioral changes, one step at a time, to correct common management mistakes that are having a negative impact on their and their team members’ performance.

Below are seven dumb managerial mistakes, along with recommendations on what to do instead. See if any of these sound familiar:

1. Assuming people are paying attention (when they're really planning tonight's menu).
Just because people are quiet while you tell them how to structure tomorrow's presentation doesn't mean they're actually listening and learning. Making sure your people pay attention isn't their job; it's yours. Check for understanding. Go around the table to gauge everyone's grasp of key expectations. Ask questions of each team member to determine that he or she is on the same page as everyone else. Have members verbalize their next action steps. Brainstorm new approaches.

2. Turning the job into an episode of "Survivor."
All the weaklings got kicked off the island and now you've got an ace team. They're talented, smart, and resourceful. So you set steep goals and say things like "Get it done." Soon, though, your "tribe" is looking haggard and anxious because you threw your high performers to the wolves. Instead, ask them, "What information can I provide that will help you achieve this goal? What are the best ways we can succeed?" Let them know you'll support them along the way and that you’ll provide the resources they need to win the challenge.

3. Hiding behind e-mail to avoid a difficult discussion.
When potential conflict is involved, it's so much easier to send a terse reply than to make the effort to resolve the issue face-to-face. Think about it: is this the behavior you want to model to your employees? C'mon—be a leader and set an example. First, prepare for the talk. Next, ask yourself how you helped create this problem. When you meet with the parties involved, speak in facts. Don't make assumptions about people’s characters based on their actions. Ask questions, show respect, discuss action steps attached to consequences, and come to a mutual agreement.

4. Turning into the Incredible Hulk.
Do you believe that when it comes to management, fear is a great motivator? Here's a rule to remember: if you wouldn't say it to your significant other like that, you shouldn't say it to your employees. Anything that can be said in a negative manner can also be said in a positive manner. Being yelled doesn’t energize people; it simply makes them feel worse. Make a conscious effort to rephrase negative statements in a more positive way. So, instead of saying, “I won’t listen to another angry supplier because of you guys!” say, “I know you guys are better than this. What can we do differently to improve the situation?”

5. Impersonating the Emperor in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
Is anyone brave enough to tell you what you don't want to see about yourself or the company? If your people tell you exactly what you want to hear, rather than what you need to hear, it won't be long before they lose respect for you. Don't depend on others to reflect back to you. Look in the mirror. Are you clear about what you expect? Do you share your expectations in a straightforward manner? Can your people count on you to lead them with intelligence, vision, and consistency? Do you hold yourself accountable for everything that happens under you? Do you punish or reward those who give you feedback?

6. Being a helicopter manager.
You hover over your employees. Your people stop in several times a day with questions. Your sales professionals call and text you constantly from the road asking you to help them solve problems. You wouldn't tolerate 10 calls a day from your child, so don't accept the behavior from your employees either. A micromanagement style makes people stupid and afraid to make any decisions on their own. Set aside one specific hour a day when they can call or stop by to go over open items, questions, concerns, and so forth. Encourage them to solve their own problems the rest of the time.

7. Watching their lips move, but hearing nothing.
Quick: can you look at each of your direct reports and identify each person's greatest challenge? (Do you even know what each person does?) If the answer is no, you either haven't asked them lately, or weren't listening to them when they told you. Help others feel understood by turning down the volume of your ego and turning up the volume of your listening. When people talk to you, ask them clarifying questions, such as: "What does that mean? Can you be more specific? How did you reach that conclusion?" Then stop talking and really listen.