Rookie Management Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs
Management is an entirely different skillset from being an individual contributor — avoid these costly first-mistakes.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of first-time managers take up the responsibility of managing their teams for the first time. Almost like clockwork, they generally fall into a series of common traps and early mistakes. The good ones learn from them — the bad ones repeat them.
It’s unfortunate but expected — management is an entirely different skillset than being a good individual contributor.
In many companies, a person enters their first management job without support or mentorship — a trial by fire. Startups often grow so rapidly that the initial contributors rise to management positions for the first time in their careers. They never get the opportunity to learn how to do it “right” and make a lot mistakes in figuring out how to manage effectively, if they even learn it at all.
While mistakes are an opportunity to learn and improve, some mistakes can be costly. Easy-to-avoid mistakes can drive away high performers and create a negative team culture that takes months or even years to repair, if it is even reparable at all.
Avoid these common management mistakes.
Not giving feedback early and consistently
New managers often let low performance slide, rationalizing that this is just a one-time thing or hoping that the employee will improve on their own. They invariably don’t improve, and the employee is blindsided by being fired a while later.
Not providing feedback stems from a lack of confidence and a desire to avoid the discomfort of conflict.
However, managers must get over this. Managers do tremendous damage to not only the individual but also the organization when they let low performance fester. High performers in the organization are demoralized when low performers are given a pass. On the flip side, the low performer is never given a chance to improve and become better, and the low performance after firing may greatly impact their ability to find another job.
Have the courage to give direct, considerate, and honest feedback.
I’ve fallen victim to this before. One of my reports was an engineer who continually had low performance. I kept on letting it linger, hoping that setting a personal example would be enough to prompt the engineer to change.
Over time, after a series of costly errors that others had to rectify, I realized I had done my company a disservice. They had become set in their ways because of my failure to act, and my high performers were suffering for it.
Jumping at every mistake and not leaving room for failure
The flip side of giving feedback early and often is jumping at every mistake and failure. It makes people feel like they are being micromanaged or that they can’t do anything right —it’s demoralizing.
Some mistakes make for great learning opportunities, or aren’t worth correcting compared to other areas of improvement. Focus is important, and letting a few “above the line” mistakes pass in favor of keeping focus on the larger impact mistakes is an effective way to maximize an employee’s improvement.
However, make sure that mistakes don’t have the capability to sink the ship.
Not letting go of being an individual contributor
The transition from individual contributor to manager is a tough one for many people, especially for managers that got promoted by virtue of being a high performing individual contributor.
Being an individual contributor means you get to see the immediate impact of your actions in a tangible form of output. You have direct control over the end result.
However, management is the opposite. You often do not see the impact of your actions until weeks, months, or even years later. You don’t have direct control over the end result. It can be demoralizing or feel like you’re no longer productive.
It requires a mindset shift to get over this. Management is about increasing the output of the entire team through your actions, far beyond what you could contribute on your own.
As an engineering leader who has gone back and forth between management and individual contributor roles over their career, it sometimes takes an adjustment for me to remember what my role is.
Sometimes I forget I’m supposed to be managing, and dive too deeply into trying to solve the problem instead of figuring out how to help the person figure out how to solve the problem on their own. It’s a reflex that has weakened over the years, but every now and then it’ll come up, reminding me that the mindset shift requires conscious effort.
Barking orders and expecting them to be followed
The flip side of trying to do everything yourself is to do absolutely nothing yourself. People hate working with demanding bosses that just bark orders all day.
The title of “manager” may give you formal authority, but it doesn’t automatically provide confidence in your leadership. True power comes from earning the trust of the people you serve. That trust comes from them knowing you have their back just as much as they have your’s.
Forgetting to build processes
Many new managers might execute well, but forget to create a way to continue executing in their absence. They don’t document or create processes when needed.
A lack of process means that the results aren’t repeatable or consistent. It causes confusion and decreases clarity in people because they can’t easily tell if they are doing things correctly.
If critical people get hit by a bus, the organization would be unable to continue operating and would have to rediscover how to execute.
Managers should take care to document the “how” of things (as well as the “why”) and ensure that there is a process to do things that is understood by everyone.
Focusing too much on the process
New managers might go overboard with the processes. They may demand rigid adherence to following the steps, even to the point of failing in the goal of the process.
Their job may be to operationalize things, but it should not come at the expense of actually achieving desired outcomes.
Care should be taken to make sure that processes are re-evaluated and improved (or even removed) regularly to prevent the slowdown and ineffectiveness caused by process-heavy organizations. The focus should be on the value produced by the process, and not the process itself.
Not connecting personally with the team
Some new managers are all about the rank and title. They don’t take the time to connect with their team, instead viewing them as drones that are there with the sole purpose of doing their bidding.
As a result, they end up with ineffective teams. They don’t get an understanding of the best way to maximize the effectiveness of their team. They end up with a team that resents them, and executes at the bare minimum, if at all.
Hoarding and hiding information
Some new managers act solely as information hoarders, positioning themselves to be the gatekeeper of information flows and knowledge. They leverage the information to get what they want, under the belief that “information is power”.
Such managers are useless and provide no value. They can even lead to negative effectiveness — if a team doesn’t have the information they need because the manager is busy hoarding and jealously guarding it, that manager is getting in the way of their team.
Sharing too much information
Managers have access to privileged information — finances, private personnel data, strategic direction, etc. They must be careful to balance under-sharing with over-sharing.
A manager with loose lips can easily cause a tremendous amount of damage and sow chaos if they let word slip of potential drastic changes before a decision has been made or appropriate communication crafted.
Being a people-pleaser
Some people like to be liked. As a result, they’re afraid to say anything negative that might damage a relationship. New managers may end up not giving important feedback, or failing to deliver bad news in fear of that impacting their personal relationship with the recipient.
However, that causes issues. Important messages don’t get communicated. Things don’t happen. Tiny problems some minor but negative communication could fix can easily snowball into massive issues.
An important part of a manager’s job is to sometimes be the bearer of bad news. Sometimes the truth will hurt, and sometimes it will destroy or break a personal relationship.
That’s the burden of the position.
Being a jerkface
Treat others as you would like to be treated. It’s the golden rule for a reason, but power sometimes causes people to forget that. New managers sometimes forget to treat their team members as human beings with dignity and not as robots.
Don’t be the pointy-haired boss.
Trying to maintain control
When pressure mounts, new managers often fall back into the behaviors that got them there. Oftentimes, it is their individual contributor skills, and they try to micromanage their direct reports or do their job for them.
People won’t work for long if their manager constantly prevents them from doing their job. It’s important to give people breathing room and autonomy to execute, even if that means giving them room to do it differently.
I’ve worked for managers that constantly second-guessed decisions I made or wanted me to do things in a granular, particular way without a reasonable explanation. Some were ego-driven, others simply inexperienced but reticent to learn better management methods.
Nowadays I simple choose to not work for managers like this.
Not maintaining control
Some new managers resort to laissez-faire management techniques, to the point of becoming absentee managers. As a result, things start to slip. First, little by little, then by significant amounts as people realize their manager just doesn’t really care.
Remember: you get what you inspect, not what you expect.
Not cooperating with other managers and leaders
When someone becomes a manager, they enter an ecosystem with established relationships and history. Inexperienced managers may attempt to take their newfound authority and try to apply it to other teams or departments outside of their purview with force of title. They may make demands without depositing into the relationship bank account.
This won’t work well. Managers have to build trust not only with their own teams, but also with other managers and leaders within the organization. If they alienate or ostracize others, they may force themselves into a corner where they need key support but simply don’t have it because they burnt their bridges.
I once worked with a manager that burned almost every bridge in the company with their inability to work with other leaders. They refused to give, and only took. Nobody liked working with them, and as a result they got very little done.
Taking credit for the team’s success
There’s no faster way to kill motivation and drive than to take credit for someone else’s success. New managers might assume that their team’s output is there for the manager to take credit for, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
Managers must shine the light on the team at all times to ensure that the team knows that their manager has their back. Any attempt to take credit where credit isn’t due can put a team’s effectiveness to a grinding halt and sow discord.
I’ve had multiple managers take credit for every thing their team did. These were coincidentially also managers who were quick to point blame at the team should anything go wrong. It was incredibly demoralizing.
Some of them steal credit intentionally, but accomplished the same result by never mentioning the names of those who actually deserved credit when speaking to higher ups, and accepting the thanks they received as if they solely earned it.
Nowadays, whenever I see this behavior I will always jump in to make sure that people are acknowledged for their hard work.
Blaming the team for a failure
New managers might assume that they are absolved of responsibility as they do not do the work themselves. If something happens, they look for a scapegoat — someone to redirect the blame towards.
If a team doesn’t think a manager will protect them, they will stop taking any risks, which stifles innovation, effectiveness, and collaboration. Managers might delegate responsibility to execute, but they can never delegate accountability.
Managers are accountable for their teams’ results, and it is not the fault of the team if a failure occurs. On the contrary, it is the fault of the manager for creating an environment in which that failure could occur.
Blame-oriented cultures kill initiative faster than anything I have ever seen. It’s terrible to see, especially if done under the guise of “root cause analysis”. The “Five-Whys” can be a destructive tool if used improperly. Always make sure to treat failure for what it is: a great learning opportunity for the entire organization.
Mistakes are an opportunity to learn and improve. However, the best mistake is one you don’t have to make it all, because you’ve learned from others on how to avoid it!