Top 5 mistakes is a topic that was recommended in a course that I was attending on LinkedIn learning. The suggestion had me thinking about mistakes that I had made in my previous roles as a Manager. It was surprisingly difficult to think of mistakes, but then I did not interview the spouses of any of the people that were reporting to me. If I did, then I’d be hard pressed to select just 5! I read (or heard) this a long time ago that if ever a Managers need to learn about their bad habits or behaviours, then they can talk to the spouses of their directs. They‘d know. Anyway, without the benefit of such insights, here goes my list of my 5 mistakes as a Manager purely from my own experiences:
1. Waiting for the “right time” to provide feedback: I was guilty of this a few times, especially towards the start of my career as a Manager – waiting for the weekly 1:1 to provide feedback. Or worse, as I recall on one particular instance, waiting till the stressful appraisal time to provide feedback. I remember the time when I was stressed about an appraisal meeting and I ended up providing hereto with undisclosed feedback to the person and obviously, neither of us left the meeting satisfied with the outcome. I learnt that the best time to provide meaningful and actionable feedback is almost always as soon as the behaviour is noticed. The only time that it can wait is when there is emotion at play. Feedback must always be provided with a smile at heart because we want the recipient to do well. If anger or frustration creeps in, then the results are not desirable.
2. Not investing enough time in getting to know the person: Going back to the time when I was a Teaching Assistant at Grad school, the feedback that I received from the students at the end of my first semester teaching was less than complimentary. I had followed the advise given by my well-meaning predecessor to be strict and not help the students all that much that they make the teacher do all the work. I learnt to relax and be myself in the following semester, advise that I passed on to my successor, who was actually voted the best TA! I can hardly take credit for it, but I was glad when I heard the news. The experience there helped me when I first became a Manager, to be myself and enjoy the ride. Even so, it wasn’t until a year or two into the job that I learnt to socialise a lot more with the team, especially during 1:1 sessions over tea, lunch or just a walk around the block. The turning point was a train journey, where I ran into a team member and when we started talking of things outside work, I realised how much more a relationship can mean when we are able to understand each others’ backgrounds and mental make-up.
3. Providing unwarranted advise: On a couple of occasions, I found that I put the recipient and myself in distinctly uncomfortable situations by me providing unwarranted and unsolicited advise on their lives. Needless to say, I was kicking myself for doing exactly what I had been on the receiving end of, a few times. I always loathed such free advise and there I was, doing exactly that to others! I can only put it down to have a strong enough relationship with those folks that my overreach did not affect the relation much and we were able to tide over those unnecessary situations.
4. Being careless with spoken words: It is an unfortunate fact that as a Manager, even if one feels like he/ she is not special, the rest of the team always sees the invisible board above the head that reads, “I AM THE BOSS”. So when the team was having a good time, cracking jokes about one another, pulling each others’ legs, I learnt the hard way that I needed to reign in my tendency to joke around. Similar jokes spoken by a colleague take on a different context when spoken by the Manager. Therefore, it is better to laugh along to common jokes, but not when it is a joke on someone else in the team. The team does remember the words and the actions of the Manager and it can lead to resentment that is best avoided.
5. Going soft on bad hires: As Managers, hiring is considered to be the one of the most important tasks that is taken up. It is also true that every now and then, one candidate does such a sterling job during the interview process that he is made an offer, accepts and joins the team. In a few weeks, the mentor and the Manager (and quite possibly, the rest ot the team) realises that this person is not what we thought he would be. Deadlines are missed and the excuses start piling up. Having hired the person, it is easy to be biased in favour of the person now that he/ she is on board. I was guilty of this on one or two occasions, giving leeway, that in hindsight, was far too much. It is well worth the time spent to document everything assigned and the items completed, even if it is cumbersome. The debt that the team carries on behalf of the bad hire takes a long time to repay and impacts the delivery of the team. It is only professional to plan the tasks for the new team member ahead of time and document progress all the way through. Companies have processes in place to help teams in the situations of a mismatched fit. Probation period is one such process that comes to mind. This period is often under-utilised and I was definitely guilty of that.
Well, those are my top 5 mistakes and lessons that I learnt in roles that I held previously. Like I always told the team members: let’s not be afraid to make mistakes. In hindsight, I definitely lived up to my own assertion!
How about you? What mistakes and lessons have you learnt if you have had the opportunity to lead a team? Do share!