The Four Common Mistakes of First-Time Managers

If you are a manager for the first time, there is a strong likelihood that you got the job because you are good at what you do. Maybe even the best and the brightest.

Please. Have a seat.

I have some news for you.

The job you have now as a manager is a different job. Radically different. Different responsibilities. Different duties. Different perspective. Different mindset. In the words of Marshall Goldsmith, “What got you here won’t get you there.” Not even close.

In my 30+ years of consulting experience, I see four common mistakes that first-time managers make. I want  you avoid them.


Mistake #1. Assuming the role of the uber-achiever

If you were a high achiever before, the only place you can go now is that of an uber-achiever –  the land of knowing more, doing more, performing at a higher level, having all the answers. This is exhausting, not to mention you’re heading down the wrong path. You’ve compounded your responsibilities and simultaneously creating a culture where each team member had less responsibility. If you are the answer, then everyone else is a question. They just have to line up at your door every day and have you tell them what to do, how to handle a situation.

Did I say exhausting?

Unproductive, too.


Mistake #2: Either-or-management style

Now that you’re managing other people, your gut takes you to one of two places. You either have to a) tell people exactly what to do and how to do it or b) don’t get involved at all. Big problem either way. It’s either micromanaging, expecting people to perform a task the way you would, or pacesetting – a completely hands-off approach,.  You assume that everyone knows what to do and you don’t have to interfere. Both styles can work  in certain situations. It’s the either-or mentality that’s problematic.


Mistake #3: Not realizing that others see you differently

You may think you’re the same person, just in a different role. But those around you -particularly your team –  especially if you’ve worked as a colleague with them – look at you differently. You’re the boss. What you say, how you say it, what you do,  and how you do anything is under the microscope. Intent doesn’t matter. Perception does.


Mistake #4: Focus only on task execution

As a manager, you must focus on execution, but you must also focus on the conditions in which the execution takes place. These conditions represent the elements of organizational alignment.

Admittedly, there are times when you have to be directive, even micromanage the team. But what if the problems have nothing to do with their capabilities. It could be that expectations are not aligned, or the roles aren’t clear, or the processes are confusing. Beating the team into submission won’t improve performance. Alignment will.


Four Ways Avoid the Pitfalls

  1. A Delegation Mindset

The new manager as the uber-achiever walks – make that runs- down the road to perdition. What’s required is a mindset to distribute the workload, not hang onto it. We call this phenomenon delegation. A delegation mindset forces a manager to think about lining up assignments, individual capabilities, and the amount of direction needed to perform them effectively. For the uber-achiever, this could take the equivalent of a religious conversion. For most other first-time managers, it’s more a matter of conscious planning to use delegation as the tool for distributing work, for building individual and team capabilities.


  1. Adaptable Management Style

There are a range of management styles- from highly directive to highly hands-off. The choice of style requires paying close attention to what the situation requires and what your team or individual team members need in terms of clarity. Sound simple? Not so much. Learning and using these styles takes practice.


  1. Lead by Example

When you think about modeling the behavior you expect of others, it becomes the ever-present reminder that people are watching what you do and how you do it. Leading by example doesn’t take a radical personality transplant. It takes insight to understand  that when other people look to you for guidance and direction, you have a different responsibility than you did as an individual contributor.  You have the opportunity to impact people in all the right ways. That’s pretty cool.


  1. Focus on Alignment

The job of any people manager is to create the conditions for the team to succeed. It requires constant monitoring to realign, recalibrate, and re-prioritize so that the team can perform without disruption.



You Have a Different Job

Success as a manager and leader goes down a different path than the one that got you to this job. It takes a different mindset and a different understanding for what successful performance looks like – for you.

Your success rests on your ability to make the team successful.

Did you come into the position as the best at what you used to do?  Now you have to embed that knowledge and experience into the team.

When they win, you win.

That’s your new job.

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