The Top 3 Mistakes New Managers & Leaders Make … (from this coach’s perspective)

by  Christina Haxton  |  Leadership Development

Whether you are a newly promoted manager, recently hired executive or have been in your position for some time, odds are if you are not ahead of the game, you may make one or more of these potentially costly mistakes:

Mistake #1: Ignoring the obvious

What it looks like: You are the “new person on the block” and there is an unspoken awkwardness between you and your team. A sense of the “unknown” and maybe even some mistrust, depending on whose shoes your are filling and how he or she performed.

Our very social brains “circle” each other, feeling out the other person. Sounds creepy? No, it is normal for our mirror neurons to want to “see” the other person and attempt to predict what you are going to do or say next.

Yet, in this process and especially under stress (i.e., the unknown future), our brains often anticipate the worst case scenario, like “He’s too quiet … just like the last boss and we don’t know what he’s thinking … maybe he’s going to fire us all.” Or “She hasn’t asked us how we have been doing things well around here for years … she’s going to just do it her way no matter what we say.”

Mistake #2: Failing to manage your emotions

I have seen more senior leaders and CEO’s have two year old temper tantrums than my own children did at two. Why is this? My experience has been more senior executives get referred for performance coaching than mid-level managers due to their inability to manage their temper. Is it because top executives are unwilling (or unable?) to manage their emotions? Is it because they don’t see a need to do so and the stress builds up along the way until you explode? Or are managers more afraid of losing their opportunity for promotion if they show their frustration, and are therefore more proactive?

My guess:  It is becoming increasingly difficult to manage the overwhelming responsibilities and variables inherent in the Top Dog position.  Richard Boyatzis, author of Resonant Leadership and numerous research articles in area of Leadership Developement, describes “Power Stress” as a unique stress experienced by leaders who in addition to their everyday stress, feel additional responsiblity for the welfare and well being of others: employees, shareholders, etc. The cost of failing is higher, therefore the stress is higher. Stress results in dis-ease … put those two words together and you’ll get the wake up call physically in the form of high blood pressure, heart problems and other stress-related conditions.

Because of the mirror neurons described earlier, when you are come into the office with a scowl or bark at your staff or worse yet use sarcasm or criticism as a management weapon, because emotions are contagious, you’ve just infected everyone you come into contact with. Now your staff are “carriers” and spread the negativity like the flu to others, including your customers.

Mistake #3: Refusing to acknowledge small wins by your team

Have you ever noticed it’s easier to pay attention to what people do wrong than what they do right? This may be for several reasons. First, because our brains are hard-wired to notice the negative more readily and easily (especially under stressful conditions). Second, noticing the negative and ignoring the positive may have been learned. By this I mean your belief that your team doesn’t need recognition for doing their job, because that is what they are paid to do.

Research described in Amabile & Kramer’s book “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins To Ignite Joy, Engagement, And Creativity At Work” demonstrates people NEED to recognize small progress and small wins. It truly is the little positive things that make a big difference in our internal world. Yet, ironically the small wins get overshadowed by the BIG screw ups (or even the little screw ups) we experience throughout the day both in our internal world or external environment.  Small wins win BIG.

So focus on finding the small wins and acknowledging the progress we make is not a sign of weakness or patronizing … as long as it is genuinely felt and communicated.

What about the other mistakes not on this list? Yes, these are just the top three I’ve noticed recently with my coaching clients … what would you add to the list and more importantly what have you done to prevent or resolve the mistake?

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

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Articles By christina-haxton
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What People Are Saying

Page Cole  |  13 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Great article Christina!!! I would be quick to respond that although I’ve been a manager or a leader in various contexts for over 20 years, I find myself still making some of these mistakes! Yikes! Thanks for the reminders!

Another mistake I see happen with new leaders is the desire to make sweeping changes quickly, without taking the necessary time to inform, educate, enlist and inspire their team members. New leaders have been “chomping at the bit” for so long for their chance to make a difference that they may lack the patience or maturity it takes to affect change in a purposeful but timely manner.

I know there are lots of other mistakes I’ve made too, but that’s all I’m willing to confess at this point! Thanks again for the reminders!

Jon M  |  13 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Great points, Christina! I think an important point is to be yourself, too. It is not about being over-confident or stalling your learning process. It is about being comfortable with your leadership abilities while always learning and growing. Thanks for some great advice. Jon

Stephanie Brown  |  13 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Thank you for these insights Chrsitina! I believe they are all essential in the success of a leader. I especially relate to mistake number two. I see a lack of emotional intelligence becoming the derailing factor for many leaders. All to often leaders fail to recognize the importance of not only controlling their emotions, but using them in an effective way. As you said, emotions are contagious and can have negative implications on the entire team. The following link will lead you to a video speaking to the importance of emotional intelligence. This video is meant to be humorous, but I feel that it will add value to this discussion. Emotional Intelligence Video.

Leigh Steere  |  13 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Christina, thanks for tackling this topic. I’m amazed at how many people are promoted into management positions with no support or training to help them make the transition. Some of these newly promoted folks, because they have always been rewarded for their individual output, continue to focus on individual project work. Instead, they need to learn how to guide a team in delivering great results. A whole new skill set.

Christina Haxton  |  13 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Great additions to this post! Let’s keep it going … what would you add and what solutions would you share?

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