Skip to navigation
5 Min Read

Top Mistakes Most Managers Make, and Advice For How to Avoid Them

Baili Bigham
Baili Bigham

Whether you’re a rookie or have had years of experience, managing people is tough. Taking on the role of a people leader comes with plenty of ups and downs, but luckily, each mistake can lead to positive changes and continuous growth and development.

Every company, team, and direct report is unique, however, certain manager mishaps can be predictable, and therefore, (somewhat) preventable. So, we turned to our community of 15Five managers and asked them to share some of the biggest mistakes they’ve made as people leaders that led to them becoming better coaches. Check out their anonymous answers below and see which ones you can identify with and which ones you can take notes from. 

2020 Workplace Report

Managing for the first time

• “As a new manager, I spent a lot of time managing down when in reality I should have been managing up and out. I felt the need to protect, and at times, hand-hold for fear that my direct reports would take on tasks and projects they couldn’t handle. This hindered me from being the coach my direct report needed. I should have allowed them to take on what they felt they can handle, provided support, and help them cut down distractions that detracted from their overall growth.”

• “When I first started managing people, I was younger than those I managed. My age and lack of experience gave me a feeling of imposter syndrome. As a result, I began to work harder, longer, taking on more and more to gain respect and build my team’s (read: my) confidence. I was setting a pretty bad example of self-care and burning myself out at the same time. I learned that my actions created frustration and fear in my team, and overall, wasted time and money.”

Improving performance through feedback

• “Without a structure or company culture that embraces difficult feedback, it can be extremely hard to have that conversation. But holding back on that feedback can damage relationships and ultimately doesn’t help others grow, which is one of the main elements of managing.”

• “Delaying performance nudges or not giving them at all. As uncomfortable as it is, delaying/not giving performance nudges does a disservice to your direct report and yourself as a manager. Feedback is key to developing your people and achieving your goals. You can’t expect someone to learn and grow if you don’t bring attention to the things they need to improve on. Normalize performance nudges and they’ll get easier over time.”

Becoming a better communicator

• “Document everything! Every issue, problem, and important topic that’s discussed in your one-on-ones should be properly documented and dated. This will be helpful if you have to make difficult decisions in the future and give you something to reference when conducting reviews and creating support plans. Make this a habit early on!”

• “Always have crucial conversations in-person. I’ve made the mistake of communicating asynchronously in a document with an employee instead of having the conversation in real-time and face-to-face. How you choose to communicate matters just as much as what you’re communicating”

•  “Create role clarity and set performance agreements early and often. We live in an ever-changing world and an ever-changing business landscape. Your role and responsibilities that were agreed upon three months ago may not be the same today. As soon as you see your role change, update your performance agreement immediately. This will help you with everything from goal setting to compensation decisions and performance reviews.”

Aligning coaching styles to employee preferences

• “As a sales manager, I often made the mistake of joining customer calls and acting in place of the account executive on my team. I’ve since learned that being a good coach doesn’t mean you’re always ‘showing by doing.’ Sometimes, it’s best to help an individual come to the desired outcome on their own.”

• “I didn’t ask how my direct report liked to collaborate and work together, and instead, assumed they had the same work style that I do. As a manager, it’s important to learn how your people prefer to be managed.”

No matter if you’ve been a manager for five years or five days, there’s always room for improvement. As you take these valuable lessons with you and continue developing into the best coach you can be, remember to remain kind to yourself and treat every mistake as growth opportunity.

Baili Bigham is the Content Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, OKR tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360° reviews. When Baili isn’t writing, you can find her binge-reading a new book or strategizing ways to pet every dog in San Francisco. 

Image credit: shutterstock