Managers make the difference. Senior leaders set strategy. But middle managers and front-line managers make the difference in whether that strategy gets executed…and in whether or not people are engaged and motivated in an organization. According to Gallup, 70% of an individual employee’s engagement is determined by the manager of her team. In turn, this means that managers have a significant impact on an organization’s success or failure.
In this article, we will discuss the four common mistakes managers make and how to avoid them.
- Talking First
The first common mistake managers make is talking first. This one is really common. Presumably, managers were promoted because they solved problems and generated ideas faster and better than their peers. And there are times when quick decisions need to be made. But not always. Most often, they should facilitate discussion and allow everyone to share their opinions. This encourages collaboration and creativity among team members. By doing this, managers can create an environment where everyone feels heard and valued. Getting everyone’s ideas out gives the team the best chance of finding the optimal solution.
In addition, managers should avoid talking first because often the first thing they say can easily be misconstrued as a command. The higher you go in a hierarchy, the more likely it is your casual suggestions will be misinterpreted as stern commands. And that not only tricks the team into taking a potentially wrong action, but it also robs them of their sense of autonomy and could degrade the quality of team culture.
- Avoiding Conflict
The second common mistake managers make is avoiding conflict. No one wants to be the bad guy on the team – much less the manager who is also negative or confrontational. Somewhere in management training, conflict resolution workshops gave off the misconception that conflict is always to be avoided. But sometimes, in the service of avoiding conflict, managers actually avoid confronting the people and situations the team needs. Managers need to address underperformance and insubordination. And their team needs them to do it even more.
In addition, managers should encourage positive conflict over ideas, which can lead to better decision-making and innovation. When team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas, it can lead to new and innovative solutions. And when they know that their ideas will be improved by the discussion with the group – the ideas get even better. Addressing conflict in a positive way can help to create a culture of open communication and trust.
- Reacting Urgently
The third common mistake managers make is reacting urgently. To be a manager is to deal with problems. Forces outside (or inside) of the team’s control can force the plan to change or be scrapped altogether. Unexpected roadblocks can appear randomly on the horizon. And what was supposed to be a smooth, easy project can turn into a big problem. When problems (or changes) occur, many managers react as quickly as possible – but don’t think about whether that first, default reaction was the right one. Perhaps if given some time and a little discussion, the team would have found a better solution.
In addition, reacting urgently can succumb the whole team to the tyranny of the urgent – where a small but unexpected problem now appears more urgent than more important projects simply because it’s the new fire to put out. But doing so steals time and attention away from those more important projects and harms the team’s productivity even more than the initial problem would have. Managers need to respond to problems, but to respond deliberately and not urgently.
- Assuming Availability
The fourth common mistake managers make is assuming availability. Many managers just assume their team feels free to come to them. They’ll say, “ask me anything” or claim they have an “open door policy” (assuming they even work in the same office as their team). But in reality, the first time a team member approaches their “available” manager and finds their boss to busy or less than focused, they realize how available that manager truly is – or rather isn’t. Your door might be always open, but if you’re always on the phone it doesn’t matter.
Instead, managers would gain from being deliberate and intentional about their availability. They shouldn’t promise to be available all of the time. Instead, they should be available at specific times and block them off in their calendar. That way they can give the team members their sole focus. Even better, if working colocated, they can take specific times of the day to leave the office (should be pretty easy… the door should be open) and walk out to check-in on each team member individually. Doing so not only helps team members feel seen and heard, but it also helps the manager hear more too.
In fact, being deliberately available helps to avoid the other common manager mistakes as well. By being available and listening intently, managers talk less. They become more aware of conflicts that need to be instigated. And they’re able to access more information and react less urgently. By being deliberately available, managers help build a team where everyone can do their best work ever.
About the author
David Burkus is a best-selling author, a sought after speaker, and associate professor of leadership and innovation at Oral Roberts University. He’s delivered keynotes to the leaders of Fortune 500 companies and the future leaders of the United States Naval Academy. His TED talk has been viewed over 1.9 million times and he is a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review. Learn more at DavidBurkus.com.
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