When you're a startup CEO, you probably don't have all that much leadership experience. So you will end up learning by doing, and also by listening to others' conventional wisdom about how to lead your team.

That's a great way to learn, but sometimes the advice you get is more myth than fact. Here are two common pieces of management advice that you should stay away from -- put them on your "not to do" list. 

1. "Don't bring a problem without a solution"

The intention surrounding this platitude is good. If you take it apart, it means you should guide your people to be proactive and thoughtful. They should know that you expect them to spend a few minutes thinking through how to approach an issue. 

However, if you only get solutions from your employees, you can't weigh in in the middle of a decision process to be a thought partner and to provide missing context. You can't help them think about the bigger picture or prevent them from wasting time going down a known dead end.

Even more alarming is that if your employee sees a problem she doesn't know how to address, she might be afraid to tell you about it. This means that messes are hiding in plain sight. You will never know about them. The implications of this are vast: Work slows down; people design tortuous workarounds; the team complains among themselves about things that are broken. None of this adds up to an inspiring culture.

Instead, ask your employees to come up with a few first steps about how they approach a problem before they come to you. Guide them to see how they can solve their own issues. Ask open-ended questions rather than simply give them answers. Be a thought partner. But remind them they should come to you whenever they see a problem, not just when they have a solution.

2. "I am not a micromanager"

Don't get me wrong -- nobody likes a micromanager! Swooping in to tell someone exactly what to do and how to do it as a regular practice is not a good look.

What this concept gets wrong, however, is that it's all about you, the manager. It's not. It's about the employees -- their skill level, their motivation, their unique makeup. If an employee is brand new, or is doing a task for the first time, she will most likely need clear guidelines -- maybe step-by-step directions -- for how to do it. In that case, if you don't give that level of detail, you are actually setting her up to fail. You'll be surprised and disappointed that something was not done on time and lose trust in this employee.

If that happens, you'll probably jump in and -- yes -- micromanage the rest of the task, thinking that's what's necessary to get it done. Over time, the employee's confidence will erode, you'll believe you can't trust her, and you'll delegate less and less. This is the very picture of a downward spiral.

Instead, think about it this way: Good leaders think far less about their management style and much more about what their employees need from them. Good leaders ask themselves questions like "How skilled is he at this task?" and "How proactive as a self-starter and self-learner is she?" They want to know how motivated an employee is and how good she is at making and keeping to a project plan. Where does she need in-depth help and when does she benefit from big-picture guidance? 

Once you tune in to what the employee needs, test that with your employee and together come up with the right level of hands-on and hands-off management. All of this will encourage deeper conversations between you and your employees and help you and each of them learn the level of management they need from you. They can use this process with the people they manage, and over time this creates an upward spiral of building employees' confidence and getting work done efficiently. 

Published on: Aug 5, 2019
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