I was initially going to direct this article at “new” business owners by capturing some of the mistakes they make and distilling them down to the most common mistakes. I shared what I wrote with a number of people whose input I value to gather their feedback, and as expected, their feedback was great.
However, a piece of advice from one of my peers stood out — “Remove the word ‘new’ from the headline.” What a wonderful suggestion! The mistakes new managers make are identical to those that managers make later, even after years of experience.
I was also reminded that there are an infinite number of ways to “mess up” as a manager. But for the sake of simplicity and brevity, I compiled this list of 8 common mistakes made by small business owners and managers.
Mistake 8 – Failing to make the tough decisions
As the leader of your business, there are many people counting on you. There are some problems that only you, as the leader, can solve, and they simply will not get better until you address them; in fact, they will likely get worse. You owe it to your team to take action. Perhaps the deadliest of all leadership sins is inaction. Dealing with conflict, managing employee performance, and managing through tough economic times necessitate timely and decisive leadership. Making a quick decision without knowing all the facts can make the problem worse, as can overanalyzing the problem and letting it drag out. One must find balance in making informed and timely decisions. Create a process to solve the problem, but don’t let the process become the problem.
Mistake 7 – Leading the group
A common mistake managers make is assuming they can lead the group. Leading the group is certainly the outcome you’re working toward, but to build your leadership strategy based on economies of scale is a mistake. Leadership is about creating one-on-one connections with every member of your tea. While leadership appears as group leadership, it is really about inspiring individuals. Inspired individuals tend to gather around the person who inspires them. If you can inspire every member of your team, you will find yourself leading the group.
To connect with every member of your team, you need to understand what each person values in his or her employment relationship. I refer to this as motivation. Rewards, personal growth, security, and teamwork are just a few universal motivators. Each member of your team lives in a unique set of circumstances, both professionally and personally. The better you understand that uniqueness, the more likely you are to inspire that individual.
Mistake 6 – Hiring too quickly, firing too slowly
As busy as you are, having the “right people on the bus” is important to your business. A common mistake managers make is acting too quickly regarding hiring decisions based on the need to fill a spot on their roster. If a manager fills a role too hastily at the expense of hiring for the appropriate cultural fit, it can lead to disastrous results. Having insufficient resources to manage your business is a challenge, and it is very easy to give in to the temptation to hire the first qualified candidate. However, it is far more challenging to undo the mess that a bad hire can create. Take your time and hire the right person for your team. You and the rest of your team deserve to get the best person, not the first person.
Another mistake managers make is taking too long to end someone’s employment. Terminations are the most difficult part of the job, but also one of the most important. Managers are forced to make tough decisions and have difficult conversations with employees. If you have well-documented justification to terminate someone, you should act quickly. Failing to take swift action can have a significant and sometimes irreversible impact on the culture of your business.
Mistake 5 – Creating the perception of favoritism
As a manager, you will connect with some employees better than others. While this is perfectly natural, these connections can lead to friction with other members of the team, as they may create the perception of favoritism. As a manager you must learn to influence the perceptions of your team members. Being aware of how and how often you interact with members of your team is important in managing these perceptions. While you will not treat every member of your team the same, you must treat them all fairly. Any perception of favoritism can be heightened during conflict, and it is possible to appear as though you are choosing sides based on a personal relationship.
Also as a manager, you should be “friendly” with members of your team, but being close friends with them can make things difficult. While socializing with your team is a good idea, seek balance in how much time you spend doing so. Once you become their friend, it makes it difficult to be their boss. You may find yourself making a difficult decision about an employee or having a difficult conversation with them, and if you’re too friendly the employee may take it too personally, or may simply dismiss you, taking advantage of your relationship.
Mistake 4 – Failing to set goals and expectations
It’s simple — when people don’t have an accurate understanding of their goals and expectations, they are less productive. Research tells us that approximately 80% of performance issues are due to poorly communicated expectations. If you have not clearly set goals and expectations with your team, they have no reason to meet them. Employees who do not have this clarity of purpose typically muddle through each day, acting cautiously and without conviction. They struggle to prioritize the “to do” list effectively, which often leads to work being completed in the wrong order or behind schedule. Every employee should know what they are supposed to do and in what order (goals). Equally, they need to know how to go about doing so (expectations). Lastly, they should know why they are doing it and what their contribution means to the business (vision).
If you can clearly communicate to your team what they need to do, how they need to do it, and connect that to why their contribution is critical to the success of the business, you will find yourself surrounded by motivated, engaged, and committed people.
Mistake 3 – Not delegating
One of the biggest challenges for leaders is “letting go” of tasks and responsibilities that could be more efficiently handled by members of the team. As a business owner and/or manager, you are always managing scarce resources: time, money, and people. One resource that many managers fail to manage properly is themselves. Every minute you spend on a task that could be delegated to a member of your team is a minute you are ignoring a critical task that cannot be delegated. Creating vision, setting goals, strategic planning, eliminating barriers to productivity, and communication are just a few of the tasks that may suffer if you do not delegate often or effectively. Most importantly, delegation frees you up to develop your team, which will ultimately alleviate some of the pressure on you.
Give your team the autonomy and empowerment to get their jobs done, even if it means they’ll make a few mistakes. Your job is to be there to help them learn from it.
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Mistake 2 – Lack of feedback
It is imperative that you consistently provide feedback to your team. People want to know how they are doing. People want to be recognized for performing their job well. They also want corrective feedback, when appropriate, delivered with tact and professionalism. Feedback is the portal to self-awareness, and if you fail to acknowledge poor performance it will likely go uncorrected. After acknowledging underperformance, if you fail to recognize improvement and effort, you may extinguish team motivation.
As a manager, you must be able to recognize and capitalize on the teachable moments in which well-executed feedback can shape behavior. The challenge is getting people to consider the impact their actions will have on their work and/or personal lives, whether positive or negative.
Mistake 1 – Failing to listen to your team
Effective managers listen to their team members. As a mentor of mine once said, “Use everyone’s brain, not just yours.” As a manager, it is imperative that you seek out and consider your team’s feedback, always remembering that they are often closer to the problems and the opportunities than the manager. Great managers create a culture in which team members feel they are free to speak openly about any topic, even if they are the voice of dissension. Great managers encourage team members to express concern, share ideas, and even disagree. Consistently seeking out your team’s feedback and unique perspectives can yield the missing piece of the puzzle that gives managers the clarity we need to make a sound decision on behalf of our business, our team, and our customers.
Desmond Clancy is the corporate training manager of Patterson Companies. Desmond and his team support Patterson Dental by providing learning and development programs that empower our sales and leadership professionals to effectively and efficiently understand and respond to customer and employee needs. Visit his blog at offthecusp.com.