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Ten mistakes new managers make

18 October 2017
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Without preparation or direction, many new managers default to stereotypical ways of running things – but rather than helping them lead their team, it can be counterproductive.

You've finally been given a promotion. All those years of slog and sucking-up have at last been recognised. There’s just one problem – you have absolutely no management training.

The thrill of a hard-won pay rise can quickly evaporate if your organisation drops you in to a new, stretching role, wishes you luck, and sends you on your way.

They seem to expect you to instinctively know what to do next. After all, you’ve been around for a while – surely you know what it means to be a manager? Get on with it. 

Unsurprisingly, without preparation or direction, most people will default to clichéd, stereotypical ways of running things. This is how managers are supposed to behave, they think. Inevitably, it means they often fall back on some common misconceptions in an effort to bluff their way through. But rather than helping them lead their team, it can be counterproductive.

There are many myths that could be unravelled here, but the following are the top 10.

It’s tough at the top 

Bosses have more autonomy, much better pay, drivers, personal assistants, business class travel, nice hotels to stay in, and deference from colleagues. This is not a tough existence. It’s much tougher lower down, and bosses should never forget that. 

Be yourself  

When you step up to a new role, just being yourself may not be enough. You have to grow and improve. Authenticity could be an excuse for laziness. Don’t be fake but equally don’t limit yourself to one way of operating. You may have to experiment with new ways of working to find the right way to excel as a boss. 

People hate change 

People can cope with change. They may even like it. What people don’t like is unnecessary or stupid change, imposed from above. Involve people in the process and they may be quite happy about it. Change can be good when it means real improvement. 

There is one right way to lead  

Don’t fall for the rhetoric of alleged ‘visionaries’ who claim to have cracked the ‘one right way’ to lead. Situations change, and businesses are all different. You have to judge the situation and adapt your behaviour accordingly. 

Leadership is more important than management 

There is often a tendancy to think of leadership as being about grand, ‘big picture’ projects, such as strategy and vision, while playing down management as a small, banal thing, to do with tiny interventions. In reality, we need bosses who can both lead and manage.

The boss with the best strategy wins 

Big ideas are fine. But someone has to put them into practice. A business with an average strategy that does things really well will beat a competitor with a clever strategy that it cannot execute.

Leaders are born, not made 

Everyone can become better at leading. Beware ‘natural’ leaders who think they have little or nothing to learn. We are all a work in progress. Leaders are usually made, by experience, and not born ready. 

The robots are coming to take your job 

No, they’re really not. The predictions sound scary – 25% of jobs. No, wait, it’s 45%. But, in truth, everyone is guessing. We have always adapted to the arrival of new technology and we will again. The truth is we need more robots, not fewer. We will work with them, not be beaten by them.

Big data will fix everything

Numbers do not tell the whole story. Judgement is needed too. And no boss can get hold of “perfect information” fast enough. So don’t hide behind or try to rely on data alone. If you torture it for long enough it will confess to anything.  

Annual appraisals help you manage performance 

Management should be an ongoing (if interrupted) conversation, not an annual punch-up and recrimination session. Don’t wait all year saving up resentment. Drop the appraisals and talk normally to each other. More and more businesses are abandoning these wasteful and counter-productive “punishment beatings”.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper is the 50th Anniversary Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester and president of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Stefan Stern is a freelance journalist. They are co-authors of Myths of Management: What People Get Wrong About Being the Boss, published by Kogan Page.

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