Tips for new & ‘slightly used managers

I conduct training workshops and labs for new managers, to get them on the right path in their new jobs. They bring their problems and case studies to these session. Here are some quick lessons about the common mistakes new manager’s make:

Sugar coating corrective feedback
This problem is so common, it gets the blue ribbon for "Biggest Mistake". Most managers dread confrontation and worry about hurting an employee’s feelings. And who can blame them? Who among us enjoys telling someone that they are doing something wrong?

Instead of speaking straightforwardly to employees, managers often bury the message in a litany of positives. This reminds me of my friend who buries her dog’s pill in some hamburger, so he doesn’t notice the medicine. Most adults are eager for some honest feedback that will help them, as long as it’s done in a spirit of caring.

Correcting an employee’s negative work behavior in a staff meeting.
This is a second cousin of "sugar coating" feedback. It’s another attempt to avoid a face-to-face discussion with someone. The problem is that employees who are sitting in a meeting hearing about how "some of you are breaking the rules," feel transported back to third grade when the teacher punished the whole class for the misdeeds of a few.

The guilty party may be so oblivious he or she misses the message. Or, the problem person may feel protected because the manager is acknowledging that there are "some" people who have the problem. The person also feels safe because the manager is demonstrating an unwillingness to deal with him or her directly.

Being the victim of "end runs" to someone at a higher level.
This is a bad spot to be in. Here’s how it works: The new manager puts some pressure on an employee to do something. The employee skips a level and goes directly to the manager’s boss to complain about how unfair their new manager is. Often, the senior manager used to be in the manager’s job at one time, or has a personal relationship with the employees for some other reason. The problem arises when the senior manager reinforces the end run and tries to solve the problem…or worse…undoes what the new manager has done.

Senior managers who undermine managers’ authority aren’t doing anyone any favors. They strip them of their ability to lead. A manager in this unfortunate circumstance has no choice but to ask their boss to send the complaining party back to them to resolve the problem. If the manager’s decision needs to be rethought, a supportive senior manager will think it through with the manager and let them fix his or her own mistake.

Being intimidated by employees who were former peers.
"I was so excited to get this supervisory job. I automatically thought that my former peers would be supportive, since we were all friends. How wrong I was," confided a manager in one of my labs. "They gave me the cold shoulder and started to treat me like ‘management’."

The transition from employee to boss can be a tough one. Common mistakes are to either try to be "one of the gang," or to act like, "I am the boss." The right path is somewhere in the middle. The best bet is to actively seek the opinions and involvement of the team and shower them with appreciation and recognition. The warmth and friendliness shouldn’t change but the responsibilities of being the decision-maker force a manager to take a more objective stance.

Enabling "tattle tail" behavior.
Using information from one employee to confront another employee is risky business. To the employee on the receiving end, it translates to something like this, "One of your teammates complained to me about something you did and they were too cowardly to tell you themselves. Now, I want you to fix it and go back and play nicely with your teammate." Yeah, right.

Instead, when an employee comes to you to complain about a coworker, ask the complainer to go back and try to resolve it themselves. But coach the person on how to do it and what to say. Then ask him or her to follow up with you and let you know how the conversation went. If that doesn’t work, you may need to get involved.

Unwilling to let go of the technical parts of their former job.
Technical folks are often promoted to manager positions because of their expertise. I know countless engineers, accountants and other professionals who would rather do technical work than manage people. Unfortunately, this isn’t good news for their employees.

The transition requires a technical manager to balance his or her projects with the needs of the team. Delegating meaningful work, coaching inexperienced team members and giving feedback are all requirements of the manager position. A manager who hoards the good work, locks himself in his office or fails to communicate with his team is stifling the growth of the business and alienating his employees.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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