Skip to content

The Biggest Mistake I Made As A Rookie Manager

2010 April 13
tags: Leading, The Hard Way
by Andrew   

Recently, Ed Barrows, an expert on strategy planning, execution, and achieving breakthrough performance of teams, and a long-time professional acquaintance, was interviewed by BNET’s Elaine Profeldt for her piece “My Biggest Mistake as a Rookie Manager.”

All of the interviewees contained great lessons, but Ed’s was particularly relevant for me because of not entirely dissimilar circumstances in one of my early management jobs, although Ed’s Marine experience was certainly more intense than my office environment.

I’m pretty sure my mistake wasn’t taking the job…

My experience from many years ago involved an established office, older (than me) employees, and typical management challenges. While I dealt with everyone equitably, I spent what I came to realize was an excessive amount of time explaining almost every decision a few who always had objections, and working with others to simply create a usable work product.

It was easy for me to listen, ask questions, and make a decision. I learned – the hard way – to listen, ask questions, make a decision, and inform the team of the decision without equivocation. Obtaining buy-in or achieving decisions through collaboration was desirable, but not universally achievable. Organizational goals needed to be met even if the entire team couldn’t be brought to consensus. I spent easily 80% of my time dealing with a few who may have benefited more from being helped in becoming successful elsewhere.

Bottom Line At The Time: I was way overstressed due to the time spent ensuring a fraction of the team accomplished their jobs, and easily worked 55- to 60-hour weeks for several years to get the rest of the work done, simply because I just knew a little more time would make the entire team equally productive. Wrong. Sometimes, team members don’t fit the team regardless of how much of one or two particular skills they possess; team members must function as integral parts of the whole, or the whole suffers. And managers must develop the confidence to make unpopular decisions, the skill to explain them, and the ability to inspire the team to move ahead. And, sometimes, to identify skilled people who don’t need to be on the team.

Read Ed’s interview here:

2 Responses Post a comment
  1. Tiffany Wargo permalink
    May 5, 2010

    What if the team member that doesn't fit is actually the manager? I am being completely for real with this question, not facetious.

    • May 7, 2010

      Great question, Tiff. And one that comes up a lot.

      We have to remember that most large organizations are formed in a pyramid fashion where each layer higher still functions as a team for many issues, even if some of those layers are comprised of executives responsible for large departments. They're leaders of their direct reports, but team peers with other executives on the same level.

      Team leaders can function well on some levels and be completely ineffective on others. That's why executive coaches are great. They challenge us in ways others can't or won't.

      If a team has a manager who is actually open to constructive criticism, I would recommend someone that manager trusts from the team communicate with them privately that there are some issues impacting the team's performance. They will likely immediately want to know what they are, and the very delicate message has to be communicated carefully. And privately.

      Let the manager decide if they want to hav a team meeting to address the concerns or tackle them privately (hopefully with a mentor or coach!).

      If a discreet, direct approach doesn't work, a team could try repeating it or decide if they needed to send two (not five) people to talk to their manager's manager. This approach always has negative impacts for the team, and must be weighed against the organization's culture.

      There is always the tactic of anonymously dropping the right book on the manager's desk, too. Most people with any business managing others will get the hint. A couple of good ones are "Love 'em or Lose 'em" and "Primal Leadership.". Both are on my Worth Reading list at the top of the blog.

Leave a Reply

Note: You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS