12 Avoidable Management Mistakes to Look Out For

illustration of a business man jumping over sinkholes representing management mistakes

If you’ve ever taken a step back and observed human tendencies in the workplace, you’ve probably noticed that the behavior of one person can have a massive ripple effect in group settings. For better or for worse, it only takes one person to take everyone’s productivity and engagement in a new direction.

Great managers know this, and they know that difficult, unproductive workplaces often come down to the choices a manager made (or avoided making). If you want to be a great manager, you’re probably looking to avoid some of the most common management mistakes.

There are plenty of pitfalls to avoid. We asked experienced managers to share some of the most common management mistakes they’ve seen to give you the benefit of foresight. With these examples in mind, you can avoid making the same mistakes and get a head start on your path to leadership.

12 Management mistakes that can bite you in the long run

1. Pretending to have all the answers

While the adage “fake it until you make it” can come in handy when you’re trying to project confidence, it shouldn’t always come at the cost of humility. One common management mistake, according to Carolyn Prater of Coach4Growth, is not being transparent with your team about knowledge gaps. “A widespread mistake that I’ve made was trying to make up an answer to a question I didn’t know. Sometimes team members know more about procedures and processes than managers—and that is ok.”

When managers ask questions of their team instead of expecting to know everything, Prater says employees tend to reward that openness with trust and loyalty. “As managers, we must learn to say, that’s a great question. I am not sure. Let me go find that out.”

2. Failing to adapt to the team you have

New managers often come to their role with strategies in mind, according to Matt Erhard, managing partner with Summit Search Group. “But what works well to manage one group may not be as effective with another and knowing how to adapt your leadership approach to the personalities and skills of your current team is crucial to lead them effectively.”

Take time to observe and learn your team’s strengths and needs, Erhard advises. Let your ideas about management adapt to the people who report to you.

3. Avoiding confrontation

Sometimes, managers realize that someone is underperforming and wait to see if the issue will self-correct. But Elizabeth Zuponcic, director of marketing at Focus Insite, says one of the most damaging management mistakes she’s seen is when managers avoid confrontation, especially in the first stages of noticing a problem.

She explains that managers sometimes try to avoid addressing the issue because they don’t want to make their employees uncomfortable. “Unfortunately, this allows the problem to continue and inevitably worsen, resulting in a festering of frustration from the manager and the rest of the team, who may have to compensate for the employee’s shortcomings.” Zuponcic says managers inevitably do have to respond, but at that point, trust is broken all around.

“To avoid this issue, open the table to conversation early.” Zuponcic encourages managers to address the issue cordially and give the employee a chance to explain what is going on. They may not have realized their performance wasn’t satisfactory, or they can provide some helpful context that they may not have been willing to just volunteer.

4. Inconsistent expectations

“An effective manager holds everyone on their team to the same standards and ensures those expectations are understood by all reports,” Erhard says, adding that it’s confusing and frustrating for team members if performance issues or rule-breaking only sometimes earns a response. If some employees appear to get more lenient treatment than others, the resentment that creates can eat away at your team’s engagement.

“Often, inconsistency with expectations comes from managers being ‘closer’ to certain team members than others,” Erhard explains. He adds that every team has strong members as well as weaker ones, but managers need to invest the same amount of energy in each person and hold them to the same behavior standards.

To avoid this mistake, Erhard encourages new managers and manager-hopefuls to study basic human psychology. “A baseline practical knowledge of psychology allows managers to get the most out of their teams, effectively resolve in-team conflicts and provide an engaging, supportive environment.”

5. Not thinking through how to deliver critical feedback

“One of the best pieces of management advice I got a long time ago was to never deliver lots of critical feedback in short intervals,” says Nadav Harari, head of SEO at VentureKite®. He explains that dumping critical feedback in bursts tends to make employees feel targeted, like you have something against them personally. “Instead, prioritize delivering the most important piece of feedback to them at first, and give them some time to apply it.”

If there are too many things that can’t wait, Harari suggests taking time with a longer meeting to go over issues and offer the employee a chance to understand what is going wrong and voice anything they need to.

Keep in mind the context of your critique, as well. Criticism in front of others is rude and will likely leave the employee feeling upset or defensive. When that happens, you risk whatever your point was being lost in a fog of embarrassment or hurt feelings.

6. Withholding too much information from your team

Transparency is a tough thing for many managers to balance. It can be tempting to keep things close to the chest when there’s any kind of disruption in the workplace. But Prater encourages new managers to be forthcoming with their employees whenever possible. “Tell your team what you know in the most professional, thoughtful way possible.”

To achieve that thoughtful professionalism, Prater recommends educating yourself on emotional intelligence and its impact in the workplace.

7. Trying to motivate team members through stress

Sometimes, managers feel the stress of their roles and wind up passing that along to their team. Or they might attempt to push team performance by emphasizing the stressful elements of the problem. “I’ve seen far too many managers deliver high amounts of stress to their teams, and it’s a huge mistake,” Harari says.

Instead of feeling motivated, Harari says employees lose their creativity and feel too much fear to make decisions. “You can immobilize your subordinates with too much stress.” As the manager, Harari says it’s your job to regulate the demands coming from higher up to help your team succeed. Don’t just pass the anxiety on to them—provide the necessary tools to help them meet the demands.

8. Delegating chaotically

“In the beginning of our business, I had the biggest trouble in managing my staff because I lacked the ability to delegate tasks properly,” says Eduarda de Paula, CEO of Coupon Hunt. He explains that he’d wind up delegating way too much, or not delegating at all, leading to burnout for either himself or the employees. “In the end, our business became overloaded with the jobs to be done, which failed to move the business forward.”

To avoid this mistake, de Paula says to set clear goals for everyone and evaluate team member roles carefully to understand what they should and shouldn’t take on. Then, you’ll be better equipped to delegate within each employee’s scope.

9. Failing to pinpoint strengths

Who wants to come to work for a manager who doesn’t understand what they’re good at? Probably no one. Feeling underappreciated, unnoticed and generally unseen is a huge complaint in the workplace. Managers need to take time to really notice what their employees are doing and which aspects of those tasks each person excels in.

“Then they are better equipped to match tasks for each member’s skill sets and passions, which in turn brings happier, more fulfilled employees and higher quality end results,” Harari says.

10. Keeping the focus on your goals

Even though you are the manager, making your ideas and your goals the most important thing will be detrimental to your team in the long run. In the early years, de Paula says he was so focused on achievement and sales increases that he disregarded what his team was saying.

“Even if everything around you is going well, it is still important to slow down and listen to your employees to better understand how they are doing in their workplace.” de Paula explains that truly listening to every employee’s feedback is not only important to make them feel appreciated and happy, but also essential to the long-term success of the business.

11. Falling behind on communication platforms

Especially in today’s workforce where so much communication happens digitally, most managers can’t afford to fall behind in communication best practices for platforms like Zoom®, Slack®, Microsoft Teams® and any of the other tools their companies utilize.

Many workplaces are moving into hybrid models of work, involving employees who work remotely on a given day, according to Harari. This means managers need to level up their communication abilities. “This may be improving their typing speed on Slack, how to conduct fruitful Zoom meetings or even what emoji to use and when,” Harari says.

12. Insisting that your employees think or work like you

Micromanaging is always a hard situation. It’s suffocating for employees to have to take every step of a task in the same way their manager expects—and it’s exhausting for managers to control the work process for all of their reports. “As a manager, you have a vision for your department. But when the processes created to meet that vision are restricted, you will inhibit growth and discourage an invested team,” Zuponcic says.

She explains that the best way to avoid this is to give employees clear expectations for the outcome of a task or project but allow them to figure out how they will get there.

“You will not only have time to focus on managerial duties, but your team will feel a sense of purpose, improving performance and workplace morale.” After all, there’s a reason you have a team in the first place, and the work you do together will be much stronger if everyone has a little more ownership in the process.

Prevention is worth investing in

Avoiding these management mistakes is certainly easier said than done, but there’s no arguing that an excellent manager can change everything for the better in a given organization. The reason so many people work on their managing abilities, fine-tune skills and practice their communication is simple—it can make the difference between a team that thrives and succeeds, and a team that falls apart.

If you want to work on some of the most important skills and decision-making abilities a business leader needs, you might want to consider pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree. A graduate-level education can help round out your skillset as a manager and serve as an asset as you grow in your career.

Could pursuing an MBA be the right move for you? Check out our article “What I Wish I Knew Before Earning an MBA” for additional perspective.

VentureKite is a registered trademark of Route 413 Capital LLC.
Zoom is a registered trademark of Zoom Video Communications, Inc.
Slack is a registered trademark of Slack Technologies, Inc.
Microsoft Teams is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation.

About the author

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a senior content manager who writes student-focused articles for Rasmussen University. She holds an MFA in poetry and worked as an English Professor before diving into the world of online content. 

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