If you’re like most managers, you’ve probably at one point in your career thought “I’d love my job if it weren’t for the people messing everything up”. I’ve never met a manager who didn’t at one time or another wish that s/he didn’t have to deal with people any more. All managers get anxiety when their people are not performing, but the great leaders are the ones who channel that anxiety into helping people improve rather than make themselves feel better by unloading on their subordinates. There are countless books about how to be a better manager and implementing the ideas in them will help. Regardless, there are still some common pitfalls managers engage in that may seem like shortcuts at the time, but end up causing unnecessary time and energy dealing with ‘people problems’. So here are some common offenders
1) Not taking the time to understand your own strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies
I’ve spoken previously about common traits of entrepreneurs. Chances are if you are a manager or leader then you were a great individual contributor with high capacity and are achievement oriented. You also are comfortable with if not desirous of holding positions of authority. But what’s it really like to work for you? Do you like to micro-manage every little detail, or are you more comfortable with a 30,000 level update? Please take the time to know your own strengths and weaknesses and hire people who complement you. It is rarely necessary to hire your clone, so please avoid the temptation to fill your office with people just like you. It rarely works well.
2) Not developing good behavioral interview questions to use on each potential new employee
The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. I have not been exposed to an argument to the contrary (and there are many, to be fair) that has swayed me from this tactic. While I understand the theory behind situational questions (What would you do if…) I remain unconvinced of their predictive validity. If I need someone who can manage difficult clients, I would much rather hear about the most difficult client relationship they managed and how it was resolved than their thoughts on an imaginary situation. Yes, a terrible answer to a situational question can weed out the horrible applicants, but I prefer to think of interviewing as ‘mining for greatness’ rather than ‘weeding out bad eggs’.
3) Not having an ‘expectation’ discussion with new team members
This is the ‘culture talk’ and ideally happens before someone joins your team. It goes along with point one and requires you understand how things really need to work in your department or company. For example, if you want to create a culture of accountability, don’t ever assume this goes without saying. In fact NOTHING should go without saying. Spell out what this is and how it looks. For example: ‘Ours is a culture of accountability. We reward people for owing up to their mistakes and taking action to resolve them. We encourage risk taking and understand that we all learn from mistakes. Finger pointing and blame laying are not compatible with this goal and are not tolerated.’ Believe it or not, this can be communicated in a way that is motivating and exciting and not negative. It just takes passion and sincerity.
4) Not having regular one-on-ones with subordinates
No managers have time for one-on-ones. They are all too busy. You are too busy too. You are also too busy for ‘gotta minutes’, replacing staff who leave because their career paths aren’t clear and who don’t feel you care about them. Like it or not, the newest generation of workers wants and needs this and won’t stay around long if they don’t get it. Even the GenXers and Babyboomers do better with one-on-one time so make sure it happens with all your staff.
5) Coaching in public and praising in private
Surprisingly, there are still leaders who don’t get this. Never, ever, ever, criticize, denigrate, humiliate, correct, constructively criticize or any other euphemism for calling out your subordinate in front of his/her peers, subordinates, customers or anyone else. This is never a good idea, is never called for and will lose you loyalty faster than anything else. You should, on the other hand praise lavishly in public.
Of course it is possible to do the above five things well and still experience performance problems but I would wager heavily that you will have much fewer performance problems and by being disciplined at executing the above five you will be much more equipped to deal with any issues that do arise. At the end of the day, a good manager is well served to remember to be clear and concise about expectations, respectful of others’ time and to be practice the golden rule.