Five simple manager mistakes

There are some pretty common mistakes managers make at any level.  How do I know this?  I’ve made them.  Here they are:

1. Not knowing your own job.

Every manager has generic things they need to do because they are accountable for the work of their team, but they also have a unique contribution to make beyond managing their people.  For example, a manager who is in charge of multiple teams is also accountable for improving the way work occurs across all of their teams, while a general manager is responsible for moving the business into new areas and shutting down the old.

The nature of this contribution changes depending on which level they are in the organisation which is the insight we can gain from the work of Elliot Jaques and others, but for now the key thing to know is that you have a contribution outside of what your people contribute.  Which means if you’re spending all of your time dealing with people, no one will be doing the unique contribution needed from your role, and something will give.

2. Not knowing the  job of your people.

Just like you have management accountabilities as well as a unique contribution at your level, if you’re in charge of managers, they have the same.   For example, a general manager needs to make it clear to their managers that they are accountable for improving the way work occurs across their area.  Hitting this year’s budget is a reflection of how well they manage their people, but equally as important is that they improve the work processes so next year’s budget provides more bang for every buck spent.

If they don’t do this, they’ve only done half the job!  Their manager needs to hold them accountable for both halves.

3. Doing your people’s work for them.

Everyone loves the ‘roll-up-the-sleeves’ boss who pitches in and helps with the team.  And that’s great when something genuinely goes wrong that is completely unexpected and it’s all hands on deck to save the day.

The problem is when you’re doing that every day.  You’re not paid to do that.  Your people are.  You’re paid to put in place the management practices to ensure your people produce the output you’re accountable for, and for your own unique contribution at your level.

4. Fear of uncomfortable conversations

It’s hard to sit down with someone who has thought they’ve been doing a reasonable job and inform them that they actually aren’t.  The subconcious is brilliant at coming up with reasons to avoid these conversations.  But you’re accountable for managing people, which means giving feedback, coaching and ultimately removing someone from the role.

In other words, these conversations are a part of the job.  The good news comes in two parts a) these conversations are a skill you can learn and that will improve exponentially every time you have one, and b) they become a lot easier when you don’t make the mistake in point 5.

5. Not clarifying and agreeing with your people what a good outcome looks like.

Most managers believe they do a good job in this area.  I thought I did.  Then a few years ago I received some feedback from my people who were intelligent and strong.  The feedback boiled down to “we know why we’re here, you coach us very well, but we don’t have a clue about what outcome you actually want“.

I’ll always be in debt to them as they gave me an almighty shove onto the path of actually respecting them by clarifying and agreeing with them the outcomes of what they were doing.  This includes their role overall, their year’s work, and any particular tasks.  And it includes agreeing what a good outcome looks like.

If you’ve done the hard work to create clarity and agreement on what a good outcome looks like, people can assess themselves.  Uncomfortable conversations decrease dramatically as it becomes a simple discussion comparing what was the agreed outcome and what we actually got.  Less opinion, more reality – the writing can literally be on the wall and most adults can figure it out for themselves.


I’ve learned about these mistakes the hard way, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great people who have helped me along.

Hope this can do the same for you.


7 Responses to “Five simple manager mistakes”

  1. Mat Jones says:

    Guilty as charged on all counts but working hard to be better everyday. I think another very important mistake that managers make is not asking for feedback on their own performance.

    Appreciate the article.

    • Adam says:

      Thanks Mat. I fully agree – without the feedback I got from my people I would have continued frustrating them and ultimately letting them down.

      It’s a good point you raise – some ways to ask for feedback get more valuable responses than others. Think of the waiter coming over when you’re out to dinner – the usual question is “is everything OK?”. Natural response is going to ‘yes’ because to say otherwise might create conflict which goes against why you went out to dinner in the first place. Only if there is something genuinely wrong do people speak up. If the waiter wanted genuine feedback, a question like “is there something else I could do for you”, or “is there anything you would like me to sort out for you” is much more likely to get a response.

  2. Daryl Regan says:

    Personal development for all team members is important. Team members should be gaining skills with Manager’s assistance for their next position whether that be with current employer or another employer.
    Do not restrict development of the team members.

    • Adam says:

      A great point. Once everyone on the team has clarity and knows what they’re doing, being able to gain skills, knowledge and experience for whatever comes next is a key factor in people enjoying working at the organisation. (Or at least not minding it!)

  3. daryl regan says:

    Managing the business and staff is a very personal experience and this is not always acknowledged so when you get feedback from people about you as a person whether that be that you are OK or a prick, believe it.

  4. daryl regan says:

    Managers who dilly dally about making decisions drive me nuts.
    If you cant make a mangement decision in a reasonable time frame FO
    go hide in a corner
    ( must be watching too much of the BBC TV series IN THE THICK OF IT Wed 9 pm ABC

  5. daryl regan says:

    My advice to Mangers who believe in doing it MY WAY is DONT