The art and science of managing people can be one of the most challenging skills for any manager to learn.

Let’s face it.  Most of us have probably had at least one bad boss.   In fact, it’s probably more common to have had a terrible boss than it is to have had a great one.

One of the biggest reasons for this is that many managers don’t seem to enjoy having to manage people and don’t take the time to get good at it.  And yet, when done well, effective people management can drastically boost the performance of any team, department, or company.

So what are the biggest blunders that managers make and what should be done about them?

Here are 8 common manager mistakes and how to avoid them:

1)  Lack of clear direction

As a manager, you first need to be clear yourself on what your vision for your department or company is, what the goals and expectations are, and what the roles and responsibilities for each worker are.  Then it’s your job to clearly communicate this information to those that work for you.

A common manager mistake is to not clearly define these items initially, and/or to assume that employees know what they need to know.

To avoid this, it’s critical to have your strategies and goals written down and explained to employees, and to allow them to ask questions for clarity whenever they aren’t sure.

Be sure to keep communicating your big picture mission, vision, etc., as well as any changes in direction, goals, etc.   Stay visible and available to provide further explanations where necessary.  

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2)  Failure to manage under-performance

Your job as a manager is to guide your team to deliver results.  Each employee has a role to play in contributing to whatever your goals are.  A critical aspect of your role is to spot employee performance issues early and address them assertively.

Yet many managers find this task difficult, either because they aren’t comfortable giving feedback, or they don’t feel they have the time to dig into the issue.   You may be hoping the problem will go away on its own, but most likely it won’t without your intervention.

Determine if the issue is more skill and training related, or more of a motivational problem, and then provide whatever coaching, feedback, training, or support is needed.


3)  Micro-managing

There is a natural inclination, especially among newer managers, to “check up” on their employees to make sure they are doing their work and completing it correctly.  While in general this is an appropriate managerial practice, it becomes a problem when it’s done too often and in too much detail.  At it’s worst, micro-management behavior can include telling the employee in infinite detail exactly how to do every step. 

It’s critical for a manager to give employees space to breathe and trust in their ability to use good judgment in executing their work.

While it’s natural to give an employee a little more direction when the employee is new, it’s essential that you step back once you’ve seen that the staff member is getting things done.

That doesn’t mean you never check in, but that the level of discussion is focused on the broader picture of meeting goals and not on the technical aspects of every task, unless there are serious quality concerns.


4)  Creating bottlenecks by under-delegating

As a manager, you may feel it’s hard to let go of certain types of work that you’re used to doing and trust someone else to get it done for you.  But the reality is, you can’t do it all.   You are paid to get work done through others and you need to free yourself up for the most strategic work of your job.    

When you don’t delegate enough of the work to other people, your bandwidth to plan, make critical decisions, and handle issues is smaller.

Under-delegating can lead to workflow bottlenecks (people waiting for you to complete something), manager burnout, and under-development of staff due to lack of challenging tasks.

The antidote is to be aggressive is finding things that make more sense to allow other employees to handle so you can free up your time and allow those staff to grow.   Create a list of items that make the most sense and build in time to coach employees on these new tasks.  While initially it may feel like more work to get these items reassigned, you’ll eventually see the payoff. 


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5)  Failure to develop staff

In the urgency of day-to-day work, it can be difficult as a manager to feel you have time to develop your people.   Yet when employees aren’t learning or growing enough on the job, their levels of job satisfaction, loyalty, and performance are often lower.

When you under-invest time or money in employee development, you’re less likely to have people ready for more responsibility as your department or company grows or changes.   This can lead to critical shortages of the right talent when you need it.

The solution is to see staff development as an integral part of your role that you schedule into your work week and month.

Development can take many forms, from expanded job responsibilities and special projects, to coaching, feedback, and formal workshops.


6)  Failure to create an inspiring or motivating work environment

One of the most important roles of a manager is to keep employees motivated to perform at their peak.   While many factors can affect individual and team performance, one of the most critical is the tone of the work environment.

Creating the right balance of accountability, challenge, fun, teamwork, professionalism, trust, and respect is key.   Employees thrive best when they know that their work makes a difference, that their skills are being utilized and appreciated, and when they enjoy the people they work with.

Managers are more likely to have higher turnover and under-performance when they fail to manage employee conflict, create a punishing atmosphere, or neglect to provide motivational goals and rewards.

Stay alert to what’s going on among team members and how morale is.   When in doubt, check in and ask what’s working and what’s not.  Be prepared for what negative answers you might get and don’t respond with anger or disregard.  Ask for input about what would make the workplace better, and follow up on their best suggestions wherever possible


7)  Unequal treatment of staff

Objectivity and fairness are an essential aspect to a manager’s role.  If employees sense that a manager doesn’t apply fair and equal standards to everyone, there will be distrust and low motivation (and possibly even legal issues).

Stay aware of how you speak about members of your team and what information you share with whom.   Treat all employees with dignity and respect and be tolerant of individual differences in style, education, background, etc.

In addition, ensure that you set appropriate boundaries between yourself and the people that work for you, and avoid showing favoritism (such as taking only certain employees to lunch).   That doesn’t mean that higher performing employees can’t get higher pay, bonuses or more promotions.  It just means that these perks are earned fairly and without some perceived bias.


8)  Taking employees for granted

It’s easy for a manager to get lulled into a fall sense of security that employees will stay with them because they need a job and won’t dedicate the time and effort to find another role.  They may also overestimate how happy individual employees are, especially without talking to them.

One of the most essential parts of a manager’s job is to engage as much of each employee’s talent and energy as possible.  The last thing a manager needs is just a bunch of employees putting out the bare minimum to meet expectations and not pushing themselves to achieve more. 

Managers must keep in mind that each employee has their own unique set of motivators.  For some people, it’s high pay, for others it’s about flexible work hours or interesting work assignments.

The key is to get to know the people that work for you and discover what really drives them.  Ask them what’s important to them and what they like most about their work.

To the extent that you can fulfill their biggest needs for challenge, security, autonomy, novelty, or whatever is relevant to them, the more likely they will stay with you and perform their best.

DIVE DEEPER:  Boost your confidence and self-perspective as a leader by mastering how you think about your life story here.

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