Are You a New Manager? Avoid These Common Mistakes

By Canadian Management Centre

New Managers Donts

New managers are on a steep learning curve and it’s easy and natural for even the most qualified people to make errors. Explore the following to increase your awareness of the most common mistakes beginning managers make so that you can steer clear of these pitfalls.

Don't set vague expectations

It’s a huge mistake when new managers don’t set clear expectations for their direct reports—because they will not deliver meaningful or desired results and mutual misunderstandings and even resentments are likely to occur. By clearly defining the results you expect, such as meeting a particular deadline by the end of the week, both you and your direct report have a measurable and specific goal against which to measure success.

Don't create a policy every time somebody messes up

Everyone makes mistakes. One common error that a new manager might make is to overreact to it. Sometimes people make big mistakes—like getting distracted on the Internet when a friend sends a link to an online game or accidentally hitting "reply to all'' when sending a questionable email. It's usually a one-time situation, so it’s best to let it go.

Have a productive one-on-one conversation about what went wrong, what problems it caused, what the individual should have done (or not) and why. Use questions to make it a learning moment for the employee so that he or she can figure out how to fix it.

Don't hide behind policies or senior management when you have to be "tough"

If an organizational policy makes sense, stand by it and explain why. If you believe something is unreasonable or unwarranted, say so. If you feel an employee's request for an exception is reasonable, go to bat for him or her. If you don't think the point is worth the battle, explain why you feel that way. Take a stand, provide the reasons behind your decision, and then stick by it.

Don't spy on your team

It’s almost always a mistake to keep close tabs your team members, instead teach and nurture principles of commitment and trust. Deal with any violations that may occur, but don't risk alienating good people just because there's a possibility someone might make a bad decision or because of a past problem.

The same applies when team members are working remotely or in a hybrid situation. No one wants to be micromanaged; instead, focus your efforts on building mutual trust and respect.

Don't be a pest

It’s not a good idea to delegate minor tasks and then micromanage the person by constantly looking over their shoulder. Similarly, don't be in a rush to take away responsibilities as soon as there's an indication of a problem. Instead, empower people to succeed. Delegate broader responsibilities while providing clear direction and training on the "how," "what," and "why." Help people develop personal accountability.

Don't threaten people

Using threats and intimidation in any form is a sign of a weak leader. A good manager knows how to build team and individual commitment by creating a positive work environment that invites people to engage with energy and purpose. You can discuss employee accountabilities and consequences, both positive and negative, without making threats.

Don't demand the impossible

Never force your team to do a physically impossible task just because an overly-demanding boss pushed it onto you. Find ways to manage the demand by negotiating with your boss and committing to appropriate outcomes. Then provide the resources and support your staff needs to meet and even exceed the obligation.

Don't ask employees to do anything unethical

It’s wrong to put people in situations where it's hard for them to do the right thing. Never ask them to do shoddy work, ignore a defect, “fudge” a report, or mislead others. Stand by your employees. Believe they want to do excellent work and to feel good about the organization. Be principled and committed to the greater good.

Don't make people choose between their families and their jobs

A good manager isn’t inflexible when it comes to sick leave and other HR policies. When you refuse to be flexible, don't be surprised when people violate policies. Instead, find a way to inject common sense and humanity into decisions about time off. If an employee was especially close to a relative who has passed away, give the employee the same consideration for attending an out-of-town funeral as you would if it were for the employee's parent. If an employee just joined the company, allow them to be at the hospital when necessary, without having to worry about losing his or her job.

Don't ask for a lot more than you give

For example, don't lean on an employee who worked through the night to finish a project on time but then comes into the office a few minutes late. If you want strict start and stop times, make that clear up front and enforce it as befits the situation. If you want employees to step up, take responsibility for achieving organizational goals, and work late to get things done, don't nitpick about start times. Instead, have a conversation about what's really important, how start times support it, and what time commitments and expectations are necessary and relevant.

Similarly, be respectful of boundaries when employees are working remotely or in a hybrid work situation. These frequently result in longer working hours than might realistically happen in an office, so always be considerate of employees’ needs for their own personal time and an appropriate work-life balance.

Don't stop asking for feedback

It’s always a big mistake when new managers don’t ask for feedback about their performance. Misunderstandings and misperceptions on both sides are likely to occur, resentments may grow, and work will likely not be performed as effectively as it should. Managers must know both their strengths and weakness, and how to pivot to better meet employee needs, such as being too quick to lose patience with a very sensitive or easily offended direct report.

Understand your management style

One of the most important attributes a manager can have is self-awareness. If one doesn’t recognize one’s own strengths and limitations, it is much harder to acknowledge mistakes and make corrective or positive changes. This is also integral to your management style—your general approach to dealing with employees, how you motivate them, give feedback, redirect, communicate with and interact with them.

Review the list of “don’ts” above and objectively assess where you stand as a manager. Pinpoint the errors you definitely do NOT do, and give yourself a “plus” rating. Then write down those errors you know you are prone to, and mark them with a “minus” rating.

Make an action plan for changing each “minus” on your list into a “plus.” If your reasons for committing a wrong behavior are due to company policies or leadership expectations, make a plan to request or discuss a change or exception to those policies. If your actions are simply the result of a practice you picked up from a previous boss, or something you developed on your own, develop a plan for changing the behavior.

Even better, ask your team for their constructive feedback on what they would like from you instead.

This article first appeared on and adapted for CMC. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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