The Top Three Mistakes Good Managers Make

Word "Good" jigsaw puzzle pieces isolated on whiteWhat are the biggest mistakes good managers make? That’s the question I asked 130 of our Blanchard executive coaches for an article I was working on.

Because many of the coaches at first didn’t notice the distinction of good managers, I got a lot of responses about managers who put themselves first, who are inconsistent, or who simply don’t take the time necessary to be clear about expectations. The narcissists, the bullies, the lazy, the petty, the dictators, the volatile, the jerks—we’ve all had at least one boss that fits the bill there. These are the people who become horror stories at the dinner table and who cause stress-related illness in others.

But these were not the people I wanted to write about. There is already a great deal of literature about terrible bosses.

I was focused on the mistakes good managers make. The person who works as hard as their people, views employees as human beings with thoughts, feelings and lives of their own, and works hard to be a good communicator; the manager who is self aware, aware of others, and tries really hard to take the best possible care of his or her people.

So what are the top three mistakes?

Once we made the good distinction clear, we heard back from over 50 coaches and collated all of the responses to come up with the top three mistakes good managers make. The top three were (drum roll please):

  1. Not setting proper boundaries. In an effort to be liked, it is easy for a manager to let people get away with things they shouldn’t. Employees can feel it when they have a “nice” manager who really isn’t in charge. In the end, it actually makes people feel unsafe. Dr. Henry Cloud literally wrote the book on this topic: Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge. Articulating and defending clear boundaries is a skill and can be made into a habit.
  2. Adding value. As a manager, sometimes you have to let employees rise to a challenge. If you step in to rescue them too much, you aren’t doing them any favors. For example, when an employee has an idea or plan that you determine to be good enough, think twice about tweaking or adding your thoughts unless it is truly mission critical. Marshall Goldsmith talks about this in his wonderful book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. He also has a terrific blog post on the topic.
  3. Ignoring personal growth. When you are taking care of everyone else all the time, it can be really easy to forget about yourself. When was the last time you thought about your own brilliant career? What have you wanted to learn that you haven’t made the time for? Do your employees see you as a role model for development—an inspirational learner?

Have we missed anything?

When you’re focused on the development of others, it can be easy to forget about yourself. Over the next few weeks, we will look at the different ways these mistakes get made—and how you can avoid them in the first place.

Are there other mistakes good managers make that you would like to add to this list? Please add them in the Comments section and we will discuss them in this column.

About this new column
Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned is a new Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard, and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here next week to look at another challenge (and possible solution) for this unique group.

13 thoughts on “The Top Three Mistakes Good Managers Make

  1. Not listening (eally listening, that is). Watch for tone of voice, confidence level and body language; an employee procrastinating when you’ve got a one-on-one meeting coming up can indicate a reluctance to share feedback or suggestions if they feel you haven’t listened in the past and really been part of the conversation you’re supposed to be having.

  2. There is one I see often – – Related to #1 – boundaries for yourself. I see good managers who are so dedicated they fall out of balance – working too many hours vs focusing on value. This is damaging to their health, ends up not being sustainable for the business, and sets a poor example to their teams that you have to martyr yourself to be successful in management. Thanks for providing this dialogue!

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