Struggling in your first management role? Don't feel too bad. Most people are terrible managers at first. One huge Gallup study found only one in 10 of us have the natural skills to be a great manager straight out of the gate. That means there are a lot of failing first-time managers out there.

But exactly how are they failing? After all, if you want to get better with practice you need to know which specific skills to work on.

Gallup doesn't say, but Claire Lew, CEO of management development software company Know Your Team, claims to know. Her company has detailed data on manager performance thanks to their work, and in a recent blog post she says the same nine rookie mistakes come up again and again.

"These are the most dangerous kinds of leadership mistakes -- the mistakes that unintentionally hurt our team, without us ever knowing," she writes. Reading her list might be a painful wake-up call but it's also likely to make you a better manager.

1. Believing trust is all about "team building"

The way to get your team to trust each other isn't endless team-building activities like group lunches and recognition schemes. These have their place, but Know Your Team's data suggests their impact is minor.

"We found that team-building activities were in fact rated as the least effective way to build trust," says Lew. "What was rated as most effective? Being vulnerable as a leader, sharing your intention, and following through on your commitment. In other words, trust isn't about building rapport -- it's about you making it clear why you're doing something, and then acting on it."

2. Thinking you communicate enough

According to Know Your Team's research, it's extremely hard to overcommunicate with your team. In fact, despite your constant emails, check-ins, and busy Slack channel, chances are excellent you're probably undercommunicating.

"When we asked 3,197 people across 701 companies through Know Your Team, 'Are there things you don't know about the company that you feel you should know?' 55 percent people said, 'Yes,'" Lew reports. In a separate 2018 survey, her company "found that 91 percent of employees said their manager could improve how they share information." 

3. Equating busyness with success

"When you're busy as a leader, you can be tempted to believe you're doing a good job. However, in leadership, that's not the case," says Lew. "The best leaders help employees navigate what's fuzzy, provide structure around about what needs to happen, and reveal why the work matters. But you can't do that as a leader if your nose is in your email inbox all day, or you're out traveling to visit clients every week."

4. Underpreparing for one-on-ones

Three quarters of employees tell Know Your Company that their manager underprepares for one-on-one meetings. Are you among this slapdash group? If so, the odds are really not in your favor. "When you show up to a one-on-one meeting without a clear agenda or set of questions, it shows," warns Lew.  

5. Still trying to be an expert

Your skill in a particular domain may have gotten you promoted, but now that you're a manager it's time to hand the reins to someone else.

"Someone comes to you with a problem. As a leader, you roll up your sleeves and dive in head first to resolve it. After all, you're the one with the most experience in this particular domain. It makes sense to do what you're good at ... Right? Wrong," insists Lew. "When you focus on always doing what you're good at, the team never learns to get good at it themselves."

6. Overvaluing transparency

Isn't being transparent good? Sure, sometimes. But, according to Lew, newbie managers have a tendency to overshare without offering critical context for sensitive information.

"From making salaries public within the company to open-book management, the concept of transparency in the workplace is more popular than ever. Understandably (and rightfully) so. However, transparency can backfire if you don't hold two concepts in view:  Transparency requires context, and transparency is on a spectrum," she writes.

7. Not setting a vision effectively

It's not that first-time managers don't know they're supposed to set a vision for their teams. It's just they're generally lousy at actually doing it.

"According to our survey of 355 managers and employees, respondents said vision is the number one piece of information a manager should be sharing (45 percent of people said this). And yet, when we asked 2,932 people across 618 companies through Know Your Team, 'If someone asked you to describe the vision of the company, would a clear answer immediately come to mind?' almost a third of employees (29 percent) squarely said no," Lew shares.

8. Skimping on feedback (especially the negative kind)

Telling people how they're not measuring up is an unnatural and unpleasant thing to do. No wonder many experts suggest that it's one of the hardest tasks for a new manager to learn to do effectively. Lew agrees, citing company research showing 80 percent of employees want more feedback.

There is likely "a strong desire from your team to receive even more critiques, suggestions, and ideas -- the bad along with the good -- about what they can be doing better," she says.

9. Aiming for niceness

Wait, isn't nice good? You definitely don't want to be a jerk, but Lew suggests that striving for nice is also problematic for new managers. "When we're preoccupied with seeming likable instead of fair, when we optimize for feel-good conversations instead of honest ones  --  we damage our teams ... Instead of seeking to be nice, we should seek to be honest, rigorous, and consistent," she advises.

Check out Lew's complete post for a lot more details, as well as quotes from many CEOs on their own rookie mistakes and common problems they've observed among new managers. 

Published on: Apr 16, 2019