Avoiding Common Managerial Mistakes

See also: Overseeing Work

When you first take on a management or leadership role, you will probably have to learn a number of new skills.

What is often overlooked, however, is that you also have to avoid a number of common management pitfalls.

These pitfalls often catch out new managers, but with a little careful thinking and organisation, many can be avoided.

This page outlines some of the most common management mistakes, and explains how you can take action to avoid them. This knowledge should help you to become a more effective manager, and develop your skills over time.


1. Failure to Delegate

New managers—and, indeed, many established managers—fail to delegate work effectively.

The end result is that they are overworked, and their team members are underworked and bored. A sure sign of this error is a manager who is staying late in an otherwise empty office every night, often coupled with high turnover among the team.

This happens for two reasons:

  • A belief that you can do the task better than anyone else; and
  • A concern that you will lose control and be held responsible for mistakes or late delivery.

Unless you are managing a team full of technical specialists, and particularly if you have come up through the ranks yourself, you may well be justified in thinking that you can do many tasks better than most of your team.

That, however, is not your job.

Your job is to manage the team to ensure that all the necessary work gets done.

This means providing development opportunities for those who want them, supporting and encouraging team members by providing stretch assignments, and balancing workloads. As a general principle, move work down to the lowest possible level that will provide the quality required. Appropriate delegation will ensure that you do not lose control.

There is more about this in our page on Delegation Skills, including how to ensure that you remain in control.

2. Failure to Communicate

Some new managers consider knowledge to be power, and hold onto it. By releasing it only on a ‘need to know’ basis, their thinking goes, they will ensure that nobody but them has the full picture, and there will be no challenge to their authority.

The problem with this is that it fails to appreciate that your team also have skills and ideas that are likely to make a long-term contribution to the success of the team.

Sharing your knowledge with the team, particularly when times are uncertain and everyone is a bit stressed, will ensure that they will share theirs with you. Developing habits of open communication within the team will mean that problems are aired early, solutions shared, and a climate of collaboration is fostered. This, in turn, will make the team more likely to succeed over time.

For more about how to improve communication, try our series of pages on Communication Skills, including Listening Skills and Creating a Motivational Environment.

3. Failure to Be Available to the Team

The main part—indeed, some would say the whole—of your job is to manage the team.

Admittedly, you will have specific tasks that you are expected to achieve but, by and large, you will do so via your team members.

This means that you need to be there for them.

In other words, you need to know what is going on in their lives, what motivates them, what sort of work they like doing, and so on.

You also need to be available when they need to speak to you, whether that is about a work issue or a personal matter, and you have to create a climate where they feel happy coming to you to discuss issues.

Case study: Being around


Louise managed a busy team with lots of work. Both she and the rest of her team often worked long hours, despite the best of intentions. She was often tempted to retreat into her office and shut the door, just to get her work done, but she also knew that she was, above all, the team leader. She was accountable for what the team did, and so she wanted to know what was happening, and to be sure that they would come to her with any problems.

Her office door was always open, and at team meetings she encouraged team members to come and talk to her. This did not happen very often, however, and she recognised that this encouragement might not be enough. She therefore decided to try something new.

At about 10am each day, she picked up her mug and went to make a cup of tea. On the way, she stopped at her team’s open plan section and chatted about what was going on, both for her and them.

This seemed a very small thing, but it was not long before she saw the results. Team members started to explain what they were doing, and often asked if they could come and talk something through later. Communication opened up in the team, and they were all much more aware of each other’s work, and able to help each other out if necessary. As a result, the whole team performed more effectively.


4. Failure to Set Clear Goals and Expectations

Failing to set clear goals can result in confusion about what is expected, both individually and as a team. This, in turn, will lead to the team failing to meet goals, and you, as manager, having to do some difficult explaining to your manager.

Good managers set expectations and goals clearly, and ensure that everyone understands how what they are doing fits with the overall organisation and team goals.

Setting goals is a joint activity: the person concerned needs to understand and agree what they are expected to do, and by when, but this also needs to fit with the organisation’s expectations. Your job, as manager, is to navigate this process clearly.

There is more about this in our page on Appraisals and Performance Management.

5. Failure to Manage Your Team

Managing means delegating, managing work, and setting goals and expectations.

But it also means taking responsibility for your team’s work and, where necessary, dealing with poor performance. Managers must be ready to provide timely feedback both on task performance, and on overall role performance, particularly if something is not going well.

Failure to do so is an abdication of responsibility: it is, effectively, failing to manage your team.

You may want to read our page on Giving and Receiving Feedback for more about this essential skill.

Learning from Mistakes

It would be ideal to avoid making mistakes. However, even the best of us cannot avoid all mistakes for ever. Instead, therefore, it is important to treat mistakes as opportunities for learning. Failing to do so might just turn out to be the biggest mistake of all.

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