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Six mistakes commonly made by new managers, and how to avoid them

Six mistakes commonly made by new managers, and how to avoid them

In our last blog I provided a brief guide for new managers – ten rules for managing people that I have learned through experience which, taken on board, could help to smooth your transition into management.

This time, I thought I'd go through some of the errors I believe many new managers make. My material comes mostly from years of interviewing people and having some honest conversations with them about where they've gone wrong and what they learned when they did. But we all make mistakes; I've certainly made some of my own. The key is whether and how you learn from them!

1. Only hiring people they like

When you finally get to hire new people for your own team, it's very easy to recruit within your shadow: to hire people who are a lot like you, whom you like and instinctively sense won't challenge you. But you're not selecting people on the basis of a possible future friendship, you're hiring them to be effective.

And while you need to think about the impact a new person will have on the wider team, that agreeable best-pal-in-waiting isn't necessarily the best hire. Teams grow by being challenged. They grow through new people who bring new ideas, new kinds of energy and new attitudes. My best hires have often been people who force those around them to re-think how they do things and to keep looking over their shoulders! The best new hires will keep you on your toes, too.

I'm assuming here that you're smart enough to avoid genuine troublemakers or truly unpleasant people, of course. But that aside, diversity of any kind is healthy. Seek new perspectives from people who challenge you.

2. Being threatened by the ambition of those beneath them

Businesses evolve and even the most stable companies are impacted by events beyond their control. Change is the only constant. In most businesses there will be opportunities for new roles, a need for new projects, and new positions arising seemingly from nowhere. You can (almost) count on it. That means that drive, passion and ambition are valuable qualities to be encouraged at all times. If your staff are ambitious, embrace and encourage it. If they want your job, that's (often) a good thing. You normally stand only to gain by supporting your people in their development and by backing their progress.

3. Underestimating the amount of work!

In my last blog I reflected on how new managers have to get used to the fact that their team's success is their success, and what a culture shock it can be to delegate work.
However, there's a flipside to this. Being a manager can entail an awful lot of "doing", too. You may have to fill in for absent staff, be the person who ensures a deadline isn't missed and generally still deliver a lot: all while coaching staff and meeting with a wider management team or the board.

So there's a strange duality to management: you often have two jobs. And you definitely need to be able to roll up your sleeves and get on with it. Anyone who regards management as an opportunity to duck out of hard graft will be disappointed – and is absolutely not the right person for the job!

4. Hiding behind emails

As a manager you'll need to sustain the personal touch with your team whilst keeping things professional. You won't do that via email or through a closed office door. Good management isn't about filling in spreadsheets all day, it's collaborative and organic. If you want to inspire, support, lead, appraise and coach people, face to face time with them is essential.

5. Not being authentic

This one isn't easy. How can you be approachable and friendly but not overly-familiar? How can you strike the balance between friend and manager? How can you adopt the same style of communication with everyone whilst managing people as individuals? The trick is not to try to be something that you're not. You should ensure you have regular opportunities to meet with each of your team in private, and ensure they are no unpleasant surprises in their appraisals. And do all of this in a way that is true to who you are. Regular, honest, open communication (in private) is the best way to ensure this. Be yourself and let your staff be themselves.

6. Going into management for the wrong reasons

Many businesses reward high performers with management positions as a natural consequence of their success, or because there's nowhere else for them to go. As a progression strategy it can work, but it fails pretty often too. Management is not for everyone, and the broad spread of skills that make a good manager can mean a high performer is not always the most sensible choice.

Make sure you're going into management for the right reasons. If it's just for the money, you could resent anyone around you who can't deliver to your high standards, become frustrated that you don't have time to do everyone's job, or be unduly harsh on anyone who threatens the team target. If it's just for status, you might find you lack the passion for the day-to-day realities of looking after people, inspiring them and driving them to be better.

The only way to avoid this is to ask yourself what you want from your career. Depending on your motivation, explore any other opportunities your employer has to earn more or gain more status.

If promotion to management is the only option for advancement, it's worth having the conversation with your own manager about other ways that you can take on more work for higher pay or status. Many businesses increasingly recognise the problem of progression bottlenecks and are prepared to tackle it. You may even realise that your current employer simply can't give you what you're looking for.

In my case, I eventually recognised that what I wanted from my career was success – not just for me but for others. So I knew that leading others to be as successful as they could be was the right thing for me. I love to see people learn, grow, and win. I also get a huge sense of reward from building business communities, and I find that as a business leader I can do that. That's what drives me - what drives you?

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