At TAG, we wake up every day committed to helping leaders and organizations perform at a higher level, in ways that lead to productivity, employee and team engagement, and success as measured by a chosen mission.
Because we are strengths-based in our thinking, we spend more time focusing on what’s going right in an organization – or with a leader – than what is going wrong. But combine decades of experience and you’ll see some common mistakes managers make that can be organization- and career-killers unless they’re addressed. We’ll take a look at a number of those mistakes we have seen again and again – and that YOU don’t have to make!
Lacking self-awareness. Like the general population, managers tend to have little self-awareness, all the while thinking that they know themselves perfectly well. But study after study continues to confirm the fact that our minds generally are very unreliable. And this is especially true when it comes to knowing ourselves and analyzing our own behavior.
A question we like to ask is “What is it like to be on the receiving end of you”? Many leaders have no clue as to their own ‘wiring’ and how their behavior is perceived by those around them. That’s why in our consulting practice, we take a great deal of time to assess people and organizations, to get a handle on how people are wired, and how they go about ‘doing life.’
Managing and leadership generally has many behavioral facets: how I deal with superiors, with peers, with subordinates. How I communicate both verbally and non-verbally. What activities energize. Which drain and deplete. One of the most interesting facets of leading is the decision-making process. Most managers will tell you that they make decisions logically and reasonably, my desires conform to the plan, and then I execute the plan. But studies indicate quite the opposite. Your desires decide what you want. Your logical brain crafts an explanation, and you execute.
Mistaking ‘care’ for affirmation. A manager has taken a new position in a new city in the non-profit organization in which she has worked successfully for some time. This is a significant promotion which carries with it a great deal of responsibility and a team of eight direct reports. After she has been in this new position for six months, one of her direct reports levels the charge on her that she “doesn’t care.”
Sue, our manager in question, is a brilliant woman who has always made significant demands on herself, always expecting the highest performance, and needing little if any outside encouragement or motivation. All of her motivation is internal. This profile has translated into superior performance, and has led to one promotion after another.
Now with the charge of ‘not caring,’ she is baffled, and wonders if she is doing the wrong thing by her team. When asked about some of the history of her new team, as best she understands it, she explains that they have been led by managers who were very empathetic, constantly asking reports about their current personal situations. Accountability was another matter. Yes, there were the usual number of high performers. But mediocrity and poor performance went unchallenged.
Now Sue has entered this organization with high standards and a very specific vision (endorsed by leadership) as to where she wants to take the organization, and the performance needed by everyone to achieve.
Sue needs to have her situation reframed, so that she can refocus on what is actually going on, and what she now needs to do. She has become semi-paralyzed with the ‘not caring’ charge. But is that charge valid? Does she in fact need to alter her behavior?
The reframe is the fact that this is the organizational system pushing back on her higher standards, and need for accountability. She definitely is not the empathetic person delving into the personal lives of her reports. She is the high-achieving manager with a definite program that requires particular performance goals. And now the system is reacting and pushing back on her, attempting to alter her behavior (as she is trying to alter the behavior of her people) and become more in line with what the system has experienced down through its existence.
Caring has to do with nurture. It is a valid characteristic, when used at the right time in the proper context. But it often competes with another value: challenge – the value that sets goals and expectations of performance to reach those goals. Proper parenting is a mixture of nurture and challenge. When one of these values is emphasized too strongly over the other, difficulties will begin to emerge for the children.
As a first step for Sue, clear performance standards and metrics need to be established for each position. This first element is unfortunately lacking time and again across the organizational spectrum. When there is unclear performance standards, expectations become fuzzy (what am I to do, at what intensity, over what period of time?).
As people are clear on what is expected of them, it becomes clear what represents superior, average, or subpar performance. As people perform in expected to above expected levels, the manager can then affirm them. These people will then feel appreciated for the work they are doing, and understand clearly how they are contributing to the successful completion of the mission.
Failing to hold people accountable. This builds on the point made above. First, people need clear expectations. Then they need periodic feedback (accountability) as to how they are measuring up to the expectations. What often happens is two fold: 1) no precise performance standards are ever laid down specifically tailored to each position, and 2) no periodic performance reviews are scheduled wherein employees are evaluated on the specifically tailored performance standards. Evaluations, when they are conducted, are general and subjective, and therefore of no practical use in helping employees understand how their performance fits into the overall mission of the organization. These evaluations are useless in assisting employees to understand how they are performing with a view toward making modifications for improvement.
Failing to provide due diligence in hiring. Turnover in the workforce is the largest bottom line killer across the organizational spectrum. Yet in spite of these grim figures, managers time and again make the same mistakes when it comes to hiring.
Research has shown that most decisions about new hires is made in the first twenty seconds of the interview. Because of this, most hiring is subjective. If the potential hire is attractive and likable, then she is hired. If not, she is not. Often only a cursory consideration of skills and ‘fit’ is performed.
IDMatch© – developed by TAG – first takes care to first establish clearly what the position involves and what specific behaviors will be expected. Then candidates are carefully screened as to ‘fit’ for the composite of the behaviors.
Inability to confront a dysfunctional situation, allowing it to grow into an organizational nightmare. The CFO of a large organization (let’s call him Mike) is conflict averse, as is one of his direct reports (Joe), the director of a budgeting office. Joe has a peer (Bill) who also reports to Mike.
Bill is very ambitious, and has found ways, due to reorganization and lack of clarity around specific office functions, to syphon off more and more responsibilities away from Joe’s organization, which have historically been Joe’s to perform. Mike has refused to address the situation, and draw clear boundaries as to who is responsible for what. Joe refuses to address the situation, not wanting to ‘rock the boat’ and cause unpleasantness within the organization. Bill is therefore given free rein to do pretty much what he pleases by way of appropriating more responsibilities into his organization.
When Joe’s direct reports complain that they don’t know who they now actually should report to, and who is actually setting policy for their work, Joe chides them and tells them to ‘play nice.’ Needless to say no one is happy, and morale plummets.
When managers are conflict avoidant, critical issues that need to be addressed are allowed to grow and then fester. This creates ‘elephants in the room,’ where everyone knows there’s a problem, but no one is willing to address the situation. From this, work arounds are created (“We do need to somehow get things done!”).
In other words, no one is talking and everyone is either in denial or furious at the high level of denial in others!
Do you recognize any of those mistakes in your own career? Stay tuned and we’ll survey a few more and then talk about how to avoid these mistakes you don’t have to make!
Image cred: aresprism.com