what mistakes did you make as a new manager?

I wrote last week that for new managers, the first year of managing is usually one long string of mistakes. Among the most common: not addressing problems early and instead waiting until they’re bigger and more serious … not thinking through work before you assign it and then frustrating everyone by swooping in late in the game to change everything … feeling awkward about giving praise, so leaving people feeling unappreciated … feeling awkward about your authority, so presenting requirements as suggestions … wanting to be liked, so not actually doing much managing … often following that up by coming down way too hard on people when you try to course-correct … thinking you have to treat everyone the exact same way and being overly rigid … and oh, there are so many more!

I think I made all of these mistakes, and then some.

So, managers: What mistakes did you make when you were new to managing? How did you figure out how to get it right? Share in the comments.

{ 181 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Katie the Fed

    I was gullible. I believed if my employees told me that another team had done something, that my employees were in the right, had given me accurate facts, and I needed to get involved on their behalf. Turns out they were giving me VERY biased accounts sometimes and when I got all the facts, my employees were in the wrong. I learned.

    Reply
    1. KarenT

      Seconded–there’s nothing like going to the mat for someone and finding out you’d been mislead that will cause you to be way more cautious going forward. I wish someone had warned me about that.

      Reply
    2. Artemesia

      In this vein, I had a very messy situation when I took over a new department with half a dozen really egregious behaviors by subordinates and I moved too quickly and sort of went off half cocked on getting ride of the worst and promoting others. Some of those decisions would have been better with more thought. When you are confronted with the drunk who shows up late and snockered in a sensitive client facing role among other disasters, you may overreact — at least I did.

      My second big fail was not providing enough management and feedback. Getting the balance of laisez faire and supervision is tricky and I erred on the side of letting a new AA figure it out rather than managing closely and supportively.

      Reply
    3. SilverRadicand

      Yep, this was the hardest for me. Learning how to ask hard questions and not immediately assume the picture painted for me was correct was a hard, hard lesson.
      After that, it was not addressing the small things until they became larger problems.

      Reply
      1. Academic Librarian

        Here’s another one. If you are coming in as a manager, do not take one employee’s word on “that’s how we do things here.” Ask for written documentation. Ask a peer. Confirm with another person. Sounds paranoid and distrustful but better now than six months down the road.

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        1. OhNo

          If no documentation or other people are available, make sure to at least ask why. Sometimes the answer to that is all you need to tell that someone’s not being entirely honest.

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    4. Aphrael

      I had the opposite problem – I took a customer’s complaint (which would have been very serious if true) too seriously, and it turned out they were in the wrong.

      Reply
  2. AdAgencyChick

    Being *too* directive with my direct reports. I would mark word-for-word changes I wanted them to make instead of telling them the problem in their writing I wanted them to solve and letting them figure out a way to solve it. I heard back on an evaluation that this made someone feel micromanaged, which I totally get. Now I’m more open-ended with my feedback on the work.

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    1. MicroManagered

      It’s amazing how the difference between micromanaging or not can come down to how a manager asks for what they want, and not what they’re actually asking for.

      I had a manager who would send back training content I’d created with what seemed like every other word in strikethrough and a word change in red after it. It was so discouraging (and insulting–I have an English degree and writing is one of my core strengths in every position I’ve held). What she was usually getting at was that she preferred a more formal tone, where my writing tended to be slightly more conversational. If she had just told me that instead of giving me 400 corrections, I’d have felt much different about the feedback I was getting!

      Reply
    2. KHB

      That’s interesting – I think I might be the opposite of your direct reports. When someone points out a problem with my writing (e.g., “This sentence is too long”), I really like when they offer a potential solution (“Here’s one way you might break it in two”) rather than leave me to figure it out on my own. So that’s what I try to do when I review writing from my team.

      But then, the context is clear in our work that people are free to accept or reject the specific changes, as long as they find some way to solve the underlying problem. That might be a difference.

      Reply
      1. Wednesday Mouse

        I think describing the problem in broader temrs (“your sentences are too long”) and then giving potential example solutions (“maybe try these two shorter sentences instead”) is the best way forward with this kind of feedback – it gives you an opportunity to address the broader problem, but there’s guidance on how to do that if you’re not sure.

        The problem comes with managers just telling you how to correct something, without telling you why.

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    3. Jenny Jenkins

      I’ve been guilty of this too, and realized that analyzing every word takes up too much of my time, but doesn’t allow for self-correcting based on open-ended feedback.

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    4. Nea

      Oh, I had a boss do that to everything I touched until I quit. It’s one thing to say “I want a different tone” or even “this section needs careful wording because reasons; say this.” It’s quite another to hire a professional writer and drastically redo everything they touch.

      To make it worse, I didn’t get out fast enough — it took a long time after that job to remember that I was actually competent; I was actually terrified the next time I was given autonomy, even though I’d been doing well as a writer for 9 years before the micromanaging boss.

      Reply
    5. Jake

      My last boss was a first time boss, and this describes him perfectly. He also only knows how to delegate tasks, not responsibility or authority.

      Reply
  3. KarenT

    I was waaaay too soft. In fact, I wrote in to Alison for advice and the first line of her advice for me was “You’re being too soft.” And man she was right, and I’ve really taken that to heart. I started in my management role feeling really guilty–I took over the team I had previously been on knowing that most of the team had wanted the management slot. I wanted them to like me and respect me, and I didn’t know how to accomplish that.
    They were all really difficult and resentful that I’d been selected because I was junior to most of them and my background was less traditional (though the latter is a big part of why I’d been chosen). The director who promoted me was aware of the issues but left me to flounder a bit–having my back when we’d meet but not as much when my team would go around me to her. She eventually left, and I started reporting directly to the VP and what a difference that made. Every time someone would complain to her she’d say, “Have you talked to KarenT about this? Ok, great. What she said.” That really forced my team to accept me as the lead.
    Our industry was also in transition at the time and layoffs were happening all over the place. Once my team could see that I was working to keep us protected and to fit into the new organizational structure they really came around.
    That was probably five years ago, and I have to say I’ve grown a lot as a manager. I guarantee anyone who knew my in my early days would describe me as a total pushover (rightly so) but yeah, not so much anymore. I’m a senior manager now, managing three frontline managers (including my old position) and now I think most would describe me as a straight shooter who takes no BS.

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    1. Gaia

      Oh yea. Obvious favorites is a big one. I mean, I legitimately have a favorite person on my team but no one, including that person, will ever know it. I consciously and specifically make sure that I am treating people fairly because my boss has a favorite and *everyone* knows it.

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    2. Xie

      Does anybody have any advice about this?

      My issue is that the people I manage are usually contractors close to entry level, but we sometimes luck out and get graduates who should immediately be promoted up within the company (and eventually do). Due to their capabilities and stronger sense of initiative, I very quickly give them more responsibilities and arguably more interesting work. I worry it seems like favoritism because theoretically all my directs have the same job title and function.

      Reply
      1. msmorlowe

        I would suggest being open about it being someone’s work or attitude or particular skill set as the reason for them getting certain projects, and being open to guiding others towards developing those same traits in order to make the same advances. In that case, it’s not ‘playing favourites’, it’s rewarding good workers.

        Reply
  4. MAB

    I allowed an employee to feel that she was my personal friend. I thought I was keeping her at a distance but on her end she felt that we were friends and that allowed her to be held to a different standard than her coworkers. She would be offended I held her to the same standards of her coworkers and that would often lead to temper tantrums (there is no other word for it) that I would either ignore or send her home.

    In the end my boss had to step in because this employee would not listen to me. I have since been very careful to not let that happen again by being very upfront with my employees about even if we are friendly at work, it will not grant you special treatment.

    Reply
    1. Hizzy

      My first boss told me, “We can be friendly, but we’re not friends.” Understanding that distinction was really helpful in establishing pleasant relationships with my supervisors (and eventually, my employees) while maintaining appropriate boundaries.

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    2. TrainerGirl

      I had a boss that favored certain people on the team. I took it badly until I realized that those employees were people that she babies because they were a bit incompetent. She left me alone and gave me the harder projects because she knew that I could handle it. That worked out well for me in other jobs, so I appreciate it now.

      Reply
  5. TotesMaGoats

    It was my first “big girl” job where I was “in charge”. I was 25 and never managed a soul in my life. One of my direct reports had been there since the dawn of time in a front line role. Mostly ok with students but very used to getting her way. Her way was no late nights, no weekends. Taking vacations with her daughter in law…who also reported to me. After the fact my boss and bigger boss apologize for letting things with her go on so long prior to my arrival. That helped. But there were a couple months of the silent treatment, fit pitching, and a group meeting where I was thrown under the bus and I cried. My bosses came to my defense but I learned a ton about setting expectations early, getting the lay of the land and holding my ground.

    Employee eventually transferred to another department when she realized that I had a spine and the backing of my bosses.

    Reply
      1. NotTotes

        Eh, I think Totes can decide on (presumably) her preferred verbiage without us worrying too much. It feels really different when you get your first job that’s in your field, or on the trajectory to what you want to be doing! I’m in mine now. I wouldn’t say “big girl job” at *work*, but that’s for a different reason. Among friends it doesn’t feel like a big deal to me.

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        1. Happy

          I think Big Sigh was trying to say not be demeaning, period, in a nice way.

          I’m a server at a small family restaurant and the youngest server just got her first “big girl” job in line with her degree. The rest of us are in our forties and fifties.

          We’re happy for her, she’s super pumped and I think she’ll be great at what she does. I’m very impressed with her. But if she uses the term “in my big girl job” one more time, my eye balls are going to jump out of my sockets and bop her in the nose.

          Reply
    1. Confused

      Not sure what kind of job this was, but if she hadn’t worked late nights or weekends in the role previously, I can see how that’d be an issue. Also, if late nights/weekends aren’t a normal part of the position.

      Reply
  6. Escapee from Corporate Management

    My biggest mistake was not managing each person to their own level. I had several outstanding performers to whom I should have awarded larger bonuses and faster promotions. I had several very poor performers who should have been put on performance improvement plans, and if necessary, let go in my first six months in the role. I tried to treat everyone equally and my lack of action with the poor performers frustrated the high performers. Several of the high performers left, so my efforts to be “fair” were actually unfair to those working the best.

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      The one thing I actually got right was identifying a couple of top contributors who were grossly underpaid. One of them had literally saved the organization with a new program but because he was not one of the national level stars, and had been hired long ago when salaries were low, he was crazy out of line on salary. I got him 10% raises 3 years in a row which didn’t make him well paid, but at least brought him into line a bit with his value. I made a lot of errors of inadequate supervision of staff and inadequate feedback, but that single thing at least I got right.

      Reply
      1. Escapee from Corporate Management

        Artemesia, you are wise. In one of my later roles, I had learned from my mistake. I joined a company and found that one of my direct reports was at a title and compensation two levels below where he should have been. I put in that promotion ASAP and within two months, he had a bump of over 20% in income. He turned out to be a fantastic employee and stayed at the company for a long, long time.

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  7. Gee Gee

    I am no longer a manager (used to be Teapot Leader at Teapots Worldwide, am now the sole Teapot person at Mom-n-Pop Beverages) but when I was managing, I was young. Early twenties. I was too deferential to my reports because they were all at least a decade older than me, and I grew up with “respect your elders” drilled into my head. I assumed they all knew better than I did because they’d seen more moons that I had.

    Looking bad, it was weirdly meta, because they were all old enough to realize that my naivete made it easier to press the “older = wiser” narrative to get what they wanted.

    Reply
    1. Saturnalia

      This was me too!!! In addition I was given “problem” employees because I was one of the few managers who set expectations and held my team accountable… so management would give me people to manage out. Not actually fun. I fired a lot of people, for good cause, but when that’s the bulk of your management it drains you.

      The older ones were the hardest for me, cause I also grew up with a strong dose of respect your elders, as did they, and they knew it. The worst of them was within 5 years of retirement (in a call center, fwiw) so even though I had documented occurrences of him falling asleep at his desk, even though I was supposed to manage people like him out, I couldn’t get support to fire him. Even when he was sexist and insubordinate and didn’t do his job.

      I guess I learned that I never want to be a people manager again. I love mentoring, I can indirectly manage (product manager working with an engineering team), but I am for sure not cut out for the stress of dealing with potentially awful people in such an intimate capacity. I don’t like the lingering feeling of having altered someone’s life in the negative by firing them.

      I got on a tangent there, but yeah. I blamed myself for what was really *my* manager being unsupportive when I needed it and saddling me with only the sad parts of managing. Managers of managers can really set the tone of an environment, and I wish I’d tried to get more support and insight from peers of my manager at the time, or even his boss. Thats what I’d want others to take away from my tale- if you need more help as a new manager than you’re getting from your boss, expand your personal leadership circle (mentors, boss’ peers, boss’ boss & peers) to gain insight rather than resigning yourself to a bad situation.

      Reply
      1. Katie the Fed

        I get the problem employees dumped on me too – for the same reason. Since I hold people accountable I get the bad pennies dumped on me.

        Reply
      2. mockingbird2081

        When I started I too struggled with that ingrained belief that you respect your elders. I have gotten over it (in regards to managing them) but it was a big struggle my first year.

        Reply
  8. JTHMeow

    I made and still make the mistake of wanting to make everyone “happy” and mitigate their stress at all times. Because in my mind if they are stressed out they will burn out and leave. But, sometimes you just need to let people go through things and deal with it on their own and sometimes employees like to troubleshoot on their own without some annoying manager always trying to solve their problems. Along with that I felt like the “Personality Management” part was sometimes the hardest. I would just think to myself “Why don’t these people just act like I would in this situation, it would be so much easier.” To put yourselves in their shoes and really listen to them, as opposed to automatically wondering why they aren’t acting as to what you consider “correctly” takes some time.

    Reply
    1. Rincat

      ” I would just think to myself “Why don’t these people just act like I would in this situation, it would be so much easier.” To put yourselves in their shoes and really listen to them, as opposed to automatically wondering why they aren’t acting as to what you consider “correctly” takes some time.”

      I’ve only “managed” student workers (supervising their work), but man this is hard. I like to think I’m pretty empathetic but when it comes to being efficient at work, sometimes I (erroneously) think I know the best way to get things done!

      Reply
  9. Anon for Sure

    I learned that it’s good to try and avoid situations where they move someone who had been a peer to reporting to you. It never goes well. So I avoid those situations like the plague, when I can.

    Additionally, I learned that management doesn’t occur in a vacuum. If my manager isn’t helpful or I’m working with a crappy HR department then that really limits how effective I can be as a manager.

    Reply
    1. Rat Racer

      Second that on HR. My early lesson from trying to fire my non-performing employee was “do not under any circumstances ask my company’s HR for advice on how to fire someone.”

      Reply
    2. DDJ

      Oh boy…I ended up with three of my peers reporting to me after a restructure. I’d never managed anyone, and all of a sudden, two of the people I was managing, I didn’t know what their job was AND they worked in a different city. I made a lot of mistakes. One was definitely just…not managing. My employees at the other office were really great at what they did, so I just sort of left them to it. That wasn’t a good idea, because there were some interpersonal dynamics at play that definitely caused issues. One employee was taking on all the complex tasks leaving the other employee with all the more basic things, when they were really supposed to be working on all the tasks (to give each of them a break from the mundane). And I didn’t know how to deal with that.

      I’d say the one thing I’ve learned to do is really advocate for my team, though. And that’s really difficult, because I was given the responsbility of managing people without getting the title that usually goes along with that kind of responsbility. So at first, no one would really take me seriously when I was trying to raise issues that my team was having (becoming a dumping ground for things that no one else knew how to do/wanted to do, for example). And I really learned to push back. I haven’t been managing people for very long, but I’m glad that I found AAM (just a few months ago) because so much of the advice has been tremendously helpful.

      One other thing I learned is that just because someone is a star performer, it doesn’t mean they never need support or direction.

      Reply
      1. Anon for Sure

        There are so many issues when a peer moves to a direct report. I just had someone moved a few months ago due to restructuring from peer to report. I didn’t have a choice (if I had I would have vetoed the idea). It helped that I told the person up front that I wasn’t crazy about the situation, and I got why they would be upset. We managed for a few months and then the person left for a better job elsewhere, of which I was very supportive of the move (for both our sakes).

        Reply
  10. Fine Dining Porkchops

    * Making a judgment after only hearing one side of the story. It’s amazing how two different accounts can vary.
    * Keeping someone on loooong after it was apparent that they weren’t going to work out.
    * Not trusting my instincts

    Reply
    1. mockingbird2081

      Yes, it is amazing how two sides can differ in the account of what happened. Also, how much people don’t give others the benefit of the doubt in a situation. And, how easy it is to tell when an otherwise honest employee lies to you.
      And the most drama I have been through in management is because of not trusting my instincts. I am glad we are all in this together :)

      Reply
  11. Beancat

    I never had the chance to grow into my role before being let go, but my problem was I let an employee who was junior but had been there longer push back too much. I got a lot of “this is how we used to do it” and didn’t know how best to respond. The job only lasted five months before changing completely in nature (leading to my being let go) so I never got comfortable with issues like that. :/

    Reply
  12. AlexDiMarco

    14 years ago I had the amazing opportunity to make my own team. I am/was a head-strong hard-working know-it-all who selected several more of the same ilk. That made for some interesting times. My worst mistake was not understanding how important character was in recruitment. Made some terrible choices because I am a poor judge of character. I paid for it in aggravation. If only I had heeded the Ancient Greeks: “Character is fate.”

    Reply
    1. Jesca

      I used to be focused on picking high achieving over-workers who were infallible with logic and reasoning. What I learned is that a mix of personalities and qualities are really the best. It wasn’t so much the character (I tend to get rid of people with really low integrity pretty quickly), but more so how they approached sensitive issues and how they ultimately got along with other departments. Holy Moly.

      Reply
  13. JeanB in NC

    I made so many mistakes in my first supervisory position at 21. I was good friends with 3 out of 4 people on my team, I was roommates with one of my team (I know!), and I absolutely hated one of my reports. I ended up getting fired b/c I was telling a couple other members of my team about a meeting I had had with my supervisor about the hated report, at work, and someone else not on my team joined the conversation and I just kept talking! So of course, she reported my conversation to a higher-up and I was fired.

    This was a job where there was 3 levels of accounting people – accounting clear, accounting lead, and bookkeeper. And promotion was based solely on tenure. There was no training on how to actually manage people. So I feel like I could have done better had AskAManager been around then!

    Reply
    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      This sounds so much like Old ToxicJob. People were promoted into manager roles because they had good numbers. Being able to do the job did not mean they had the ability to lead other people in doing the job so things were frequently a giant disaster.

      Reply
  14. Formerly Naive Manager

    I tried too hard to be friends with my staff. We went out for drinking nights, went to all get tattoos together, and other activities that make me cringe to think about now. I was very young at the time.

    It took me a long time to realize I do not need to be friends with people I manage. Friendly, yes, and even social to a certain extent, but not in the way I was when I was younger.

    Reply
  15. Mafalda

    Much of what Allison said – especially on wanting to be liked and giving suggestions instead of directives. Also – not trusting my gut on hiring decisions. I once hired someone who totally bombed her interview because she was a temp already doing the work and my (terrible) manager was pushing it as the “easiest” solution to filling a critical role quickly. She was… not great. Bad attitude, poor quality of work, incapable of taking feedback, full of excuses, and toxic to the team dynamic. Eight months later, she quit before I finished the disciplinary process required to fire her (she thought she was screwing me over, but I considered it a massive favor). I replaced her with someone stellar and learned a big lesson about hiring and trusting my instincts.

    Reply
    1. Saturnalia

      Hahaha isn’t it funny how the whole “you can’t fire me, I quit” is such a relief to hear as the person working on termination paperwork? You don’t have to worry as much about unemployment claims, you get to avoid the actual firing conversation, less paperwork, it’s just the best outcome you can hope for all around.

      Reply
  16. Young and Managing

    When an employee told me that they get a “free” call-out every year. In other words, they wouldn’t get an occurrence for not showing up. I work in healthcare so call-outs are a big deal for safety reasons.

    …..turns out that rule wasn’t true since the 1980s

    Reply
  17. The Ginger Ginger

    I didn’t advocate for myself or my team well with upper management. I buffered my team from upper management’s unresponsiveness and did my best to absorb the stress that caused myself instead of passing to my team, but I wasn’t good at pushing back against it. I let my own (off site) manager override my hiring decisions, I accepted – without discussion – the claim that the level of workload that was being placed on me (and my understaffed team) was “just the way it was”, and I stopped trying to advocate for solutions to issues we were having because my manager just wouldn’t listen. Basically I burned out. A lot of that was me being new and not realizing that I now had more standing to push back on things as a manager, but a big part was also that upper management didn’t listen, was unresponsive, and made fixed/final decisions without my (or my team’s) input – essentially tying my hands on executing their decisions – while demanding unrealistic levels of work from an understaffed and underpaid team.

    I burned out so hard I moved 400+ miles away to start an entirely new career. I’m no longer a manager, and I will never EVER manage direct reports again if I have any say in the matter.

    Reply
    1. The Ginger Ginger

      And of course, I should have SAID all of that to upper management, but I was new, and didn’t really realize that was an option.

      Reply
      1. Saturnalia

        I chimed in above with similar sentiment. Never again if I can help it! It’s a unique pressure being in the middle of unresponsive upper management and a loudly unhappy team.

        Reply
  18. Anon today...and tomorrow

    I let emotions get in the way and almost let a co-worker get away with harassment. I worked as a manager for a retail shop for several years and had established friendships with the other management team. One night one of the part time staff approached me to complain about one of the male managers I was friends with. She was being sexually harassed and didn’t want to work with him. I actually started making excuses for him because he was my friend and I didn’t want to believe it of him. The employee didn’t argue with me, but I could see that she was hurt and disappointed. I remember wanting to be liked by my peers but also wanting to do the right thing and I learned that sometimes it’s not possible to do both. I ended up reporting what she told me the next day and after a brief investigation the manager decided to leave the company to avoid any further issues. Interestingly, a few years later I went to work for a completely different company and this same manager happened to be working there. He went on vacation the day after I started (I was his supervisor). The first day he was gone every single female employee came to me and filed a sexual harassment complaint against him. I filed the report immediately and he was fired his first day back at work.

    Reply
    1. Anon right now

      Thank you for this- I’m a new manager who is currently braving a forcefield of ice from nearly everyone on my team because of something like this. After one of my attempts to shut down some really inappropriate bordering on harassment talk was received with cavalier eye rolling, I escalated it to upper management, who reiterated that there’s zero tolerance for that. I know I did the right thing, and I appreciate that I have a supervisor who takes this stuff seriously and addressed it immediately, but the part of me that needs to be liked is not enjoying being frozen out by everyone.

      Reply
  19. Nanc

    It will be much shorter to list the things I did right:
    1. I was on time.
    2. Nobody died.
    3. The building was still standing when I left the job 5 years later.

    I was lucky I had a great boss who really stepped in to help me learn how to manage. I feel like I should track down my first team and apologize and apologize and apologize . . .

    Reply
  20. BlueSky

    On the tactical end – not establishing regular team meetings and 1 on 1 meetings soon enough. And not developing an agenda for those meeting.

    On the growth end – not understanding the need or the available avenues to seek continued professional growth.

    I was so overwhelmed by the daily that it took me a while to coordinate the big picture.

    Reply
    1. babblemouth

      How did you eventually manage to oversee both daily work and big picture? When I think about going into management, I feel like this would be the part that I would struggle with the most.

      Reply
      1. BlueSky

        I’d say it just takes time and the balance will never be perfect. I think you need at least a full year / product cycle / employee review cycle to get a rhythm going. Developing great staff that you trust is a key, and you probably need to double the time you expect to spend on managing your team. And there will always be crunch times with deadlines or not enough resources that can throw you out of wack.

        Reply
    2. Lyn by the River

      Two things:

      I hired a really great project coordinator who got burned out after a year. I realized later it was (at least partly) because we never had regular meetings for her to check in about things, get feedback, or even just have someone with whom to vet ideas (we were a small organization of 4 total employees). She was such a stellar employee it didn’t occur to me that she needed those times, and I know I did her disservice. After that I was much better about having regular checkins, developing agendas in partnership with staff , and ensuring they knew I was available when necessary.

      I also struggled to give tough feedback and hold an employee accountable. I was going through a very difficult time (depression and severe anxiety) and was a first time executive director; it felt like **so much extra work** to deal with this particular employee and I felt intimidated by confronting them. They had very pssive aggressive responses that I hated dealing with. I didn’t want them to quit because the idea of having to rehire felt overwhelming. They seemed otherwise good at their job so I let things slide. It all came back to bite me later when I switched jobs, but stayed in the same field and ended up having to deal with this person again and it wasn’t great. And now I’ve heard through my networks that this person is severely undermining partnerships I’d spent years building. I wish I’d given the feedback and accountability — partly because it may have saved me the added grief later and because it may have spared my prior organization (about which I care about very much since I helped develop it for seven years) having to deal with the problems they have created.

      I now read AAM religiously so that in the future when I’m in a management role again I’ll be more confident and prepared to have those difficult-seeming but necessary conversations with my staff. Thank you AAM!

      Reply
  21. Jesmlet

    Micromanaging and not setting friendship boundaries (yes, on the same person). I feel like in hindsight that’s a weird combination and the negative effects seemed to offset a bit. It was a mistake because I now know it shouldn’t be done, not because of anything that happened as a result. Even though we didn’t run into any problems, most of the time it doesn’t work out that way.

    Reply
  22. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    I was too strict about rules/policy. I was a super young manager (22/23) with a much older staff (45-50) and felt insecure about my authority. I hadn’t developed the experience to know which rules required discretion and which were inviolate. So I was too focused on rules than on good judgment.

    I was also extremely conflict averse (in life in general). I would bottle up my feelings and become resentful.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Oh, and I was unwilling to fire people! That’s changed, but I really internalized the stress of firing (I think it’s related to having been conflict averse).

      Reply
    2. Mockingjay

      Oh, lord, I was a martinet about policies. And I never had soft skills to deal with different personalities. I was Spock when he gave into his human temper. The places I worked for provided absolutely no training on supervisory duties. “Here’s your login to approve timesheets. Oh, and the (vaguely written) company handbook is located on the server at this link.” I tried to make every situation fit the handbook, because that’s all the direction I got. (My poor staff. I hope they forgive me one day.)

      Ultimately I figured out that I am a great task lead (tracking workload for a small team), but I completely suck at actually managing people and I really don’t like it. These last few years I have avoided managerial roles. I’m way happier and so are the people around me.

      Reply
  23. Temperance

    I have had many interns, and the overwhelming majority were awesome, so I was very flexible with them as a policy and would assign work in a really open way (let them work together on projects, etc.). I had one terrible intern who was rude, lazy, constantly late, and his work sucked. I had to change my policies/management style with him, and it was a real struggle because I didn’t ever have to do that previously.

    Reply
  24. Kat

    I spent too long fixing my employees mistakes instead of addressing them and coaching the employees on how I expected the work done. By the time I got the sense and confidence to actually start managing I was so behind on my own work from trying to do too much. I also didn’t stand up to my own manager when she wanted to push out one of my temporary employees for being “too loud”. I had actually wanted to convert this person to a regular position but went along with my manager’s unfair (and now that I think about it, probably a bit racist) plan. I quit that job after 15 months and even though I got good reviews from my superiors and my direct reports I will never manage people again. I was a complete failure.

    Reply
  25. Gaia

    I was overly candid with my staff because at times the relationship seemed friendly (close in age, similar interests outside of work, etc) and so I would talk to them the way I spoke to friends. Then, when I had to actually be a manager I didn’t want to be too harsh so I was wishy-washy and didn’t set clear boundaries or expectations. It resulted in my staff being confused about what I wanted from them, upset and frustrated and I ended up feeling like an utter failure. It took a lot of honest feedback from my team, from my manager and from managers I trusted to turn my head around.

    Also, I once hired a former coworker when I changed companies and was promoted into a manager. We’d got alone as coworkers and I ignored all the red flags that she was a toxic employee. I ignored feedback from my new company’s recruitment team that this person seemed like a bad fit. I didn’t even really interview her because I “knew” she’d be good: we’d worked together! ……. I had no idea. She was a disaster. A year and a half of constant stress, complaints, bad attitude and inappropriate behavior to coworkers and customers and I had to fire her and admit I was wrong.

    Reply
  26. Snarkus Aurelius

    I made the mistake of agreeing to manage someone who I couldn’t discipline, fire or give a raise to. (Not that I wanted to on that last one.) I wasn’t even allowed in the hiring process. I was in charge of his work, but he had no incentive to do anything I said so he didn’t. Boss yelled at me for his stuff not being done, and she didn’t care about anything else.

    The best part is he wanted my job, which took me 15+ years of experience to get. He was a fresh college grad. When I went on my honeymoon, he said he could handle everything I did plus his job (that he barely did). On the third day I was gone, he had no clue and just stopped doing my job without telling anyone!!

    Now that I write this all out, I guess I wasn’t a manager. I’d say I was a babysitter, but even they have more authority.

    Never again!

    Reply
    1. Ann O'Nemity

      Oh that’s the worst. I don’t think you can really “manage” someone without having authority to discipline or fire them.

      Reply
    2. Hindered Manager

      Similar situation, except I thought that boss was actually OK with dealing with employee’s issues; grandboss and great-grandboss certainly were and told me so. As it turned out, boss wasn’t because it would “impact the department too much” to deal with the employee. Boss ended up taking supervision of problem employee back, I think because I’d finally had enough and went to HR for advice on how to handle it when employee kept skipping over me to work directly with my boss.

      Reply
  27. The Other Dawn

    Didn’t delegate enough, if at all.

    For many years I was basically a one-woman show due to the very small company size (bank) and the fact that it was a start-up and not profitable. I was extremely ambitious and wanted to move up fast, as I did. I was compliance, IT, deposit and loan operations, BSA, information security, and whatever else you could throw in there. I was so used to doing everything myself that when I finally got a body to add, I just couldn’t let go of anything. I guess I felt that if people saw someone else doing what I deemed to be *my* work, it meant that I couldn’t cut it. I also didn’t trust that someone else could do the work as well, felt they had to do it my way, or just felt like it was easier and faster to do it myself. And, legitimately, there were lots of times where I truly couldn’t trust someone (not managed by me) to do the simplest of things without mistakes that would take a whole day to fix, or to have to hold her hand the entire time. So, I just did as much as I could by working really long hours, logging in from home, sometimes micromanaging the person I managed, or just…skipped…certain things and played catch-up when it came audit time. I couldn’t go on vacation without people calling me, which meant I couldn’t relax and actually have a real vacation. People just didn’t know how to do anything because I didn’t train and delegate, so that’s on me. Eventually I burned out and had a meltdown. After a good talking-to by my boss/mentor (he was so awesome!) I finally learned to let go and let people make mistakes and learn. But it was hard in that company, since the people that needed hand-holding were there until the company closed. I could only do so much and go so far with delegation. But when I got to my current job it was much easier. I have bodies (!!) and they actually want to work, know their job, actually love their job, and they do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it and it’s accurate. And, the best part, they’re all cross trained. I never worry that things won’t get done. I sleep well at night.

    Reply
    1. Sam

      I suspect my supervisor is headed for this fate. He ends up taking over literally every project in our office, in part (I think) because he does not trust other people to do things correctly. And since he’s the director’s favorite, this isn’t seen as a problem.

      He has a remarkably high energy level and tolerance for excessive work, but the reality is he’s completely maxed out. Last year, it got bad enough that he actually started delegating out of sheer necessity. But most of it still went to the one or two people he felt he could trust, one of whom was me. Going into our busy season, I’ve actually pushed to off-load some of my administrative tasks on other people so that I’ll have the capacity to pick up his slack. Because he may not’ve completely burned out yet, but I have, and I am not ok taking on his overflow in addition to my actual job if it means I’m going to have to work 55+ hours a week. One can only hope he learns your lesson sooner rather than later…

      Reply
      1. The Other Dawn

        It definitely took me a long time (years!) to learn that delegating is not a Bad Thing. Yes, it can be if you’re giving tasks to That Employee that can’t handle anything beyond writing her name and shouldn’t be there anyway…but I digress. But overall delegating is good: people get cross-trained, gain confidence, more work gets done, etc. I’ve learned that the hard way. And I still have to check myself now and again, because those tendencies are really hard to let go of.

        I think something that is working in my favor right now is that I’m beyond my 20s and 30s. Those were the years where I pushed hard to be a rock star at every single thing I did. I’m now in my 40s and at a comfortable place in my career, and no longer feel that constant drive to be the best. Not that I don’t want to do a great job and excel, just that I’m beyond being hungry for upward movement. Also, I have an awesome team and can actually depend on people; I didn’t have that for MANY years.

        Reply
  28. Librarian of the North

    I didn’t trust my staff enough to delegate. I tried to take everything on myself and left the bare minimum of their jobs to them. This led to a major burn out and leaving the industry after a stress leave (I’m now in libraries). I also wasn’t direct enough. For example, I scheduled a staff member to work the entire Thanksgiving long weekend without realizing. She would make snarky comments about it for weeks after which I just ignored. I wish I had addressed the issue head on, apologized for the scheduling mishap and told her I need her to move on if she continued being snarky about it.

    Reply
  29. KR

    I wanted to be liked and I wanted to be my employees friend. That was a big mistake. I was scared to have the hard talks and tell an employee, no you’re not doing this right and you need to do something different or else. I think the hard part was that my boss was an enabler of that because he was a big fan of giving people one last chance …. all the time and tolerating some bad employees because we thought they had potential. Also, I didn’t have authority to fire someone so even towards the end when I would recommend we let someone go, my boss didn’t want to. I also didn’t advocate for my employees at first. I knew they were underpaid and we expected too much for how we were paying them but I was scared to stand firm and tell my boss, no it had to change. I eventually realized that my boss was depending on me to take the information I had from managing these people and give it to him and tell him what I needed from him and eventually I figured that out and was able to do it effectively.

    Reply
  30. Kelly L.

    I managed student workers, and then the faculty were over me. I let the faculty unjustly pick on one student worker who they just hated for no good reason, and the reason I let it happen was that I was intimidated by the faculty. I still feel bad about it.

    Reply
  31. Amp2140

    -I became friends with a coworker that I was sure I wasn’t going to manage. It became clear that healthy boundaries didn’t exist between him and his wife (accusing him of cheating on her with me when we invited her and she declined). Now I regret having that level of familiarity. Of course I just found out I’m going to manage him in a few months.

    -Started managing after a rough break up. That was super fun.

    -Got stuck trying to “supervise” (didn’t direct report but my manager didn’t have time so he asked me to deal with it) an employee that constantly went to HR over people. Incredibly abusive towards coworkers.

    -Mishandled an admin going over my head to my boss.

    And the list continues…

    Reply
  32. Ann O'Nemity

    Here are the mistakes I made when I first started managing people:

    (1) Swooping in to solve something instead of coaching others to fix it or even letting them flounder a bit.
    (2) Not delegating enough, usually because I was prioritizing short-term speed over the long-term benefits.
    (3) Continuing to manage my direct reports like a project manager would instead of really developing people in their careers.

    Reply
    1. Ann O'Nemity

      I say, “mistakes I made when I first started” but to be real, I still do all three of these things on occasion. But I know I shouldn’t and I’m working on it.

      Reply
      1. DDJ

        Thank you for saying this! I’ve definitely grown a lot, but it seems like those newbie mistakes can still sneak in every now and then.

        Reply
    2. Ama

      Curious as to how you managed to stop doing no 1. I’ve acquired my first full-time direct report (I’ve supervised students and a part-time consultant before) and I’m realizing that impulse to swoop in is super strong.

      Reply
  33. Michigan Sara

    Being too soft on requirements, etc. and having tough discussions. I’ve learned/am learning how to be more firm while still being kind and how to hold people and myself accountable. I’m definitely still learning how to manage a dispersed staff (I run a warehouse) without feeling like I’m babysitting or looking over the shoulder and while still getting my “desk” work done.

    Reply
  34. bikes

    For about four years, I had to hire twelve graduate students for part time positions each fall. I had a long string of hires who were smart and engaging but terrible at showing up for scheduled hours, as well as terrible at turning in needed project data. My rule of thumb after a while was to try hard *not* to hire people I would enjoy having to a dinner party. I guess I am drawn to bright, authority-questioning, flaky types, personally. A related note: two of my most introverted hires, both of whom appeared visibly uncomfortable during the interview, were my very best finds. They stayed a long time and threw themselves in to every aspect of the work. They showed so much care for the students we served and I am so grateful I had the chance to work with them.

    The other issue I had (and still do to some extent, but much less) was that I somehow gave the impression that I was available to research basic questions that could have easily been figured out with a quick Google. Whhhhhy?

    Reply
    1. Jessica

      The funny, interesting people with big flamboyant personalities have been fun to have around, but not the best workers. Best two student employees I ever had were very quiet and reserved, and on superficial acquaintance could give the impression of not being very interesting.

      Reply
  35. LAI

    I was defensive of the people I supervised when others tried to tell me about problems, because I hadn’t seen those problems first hand. In retrospect though, it was probably also partially because I thought it would reflect badly on me as their manager if I acknowledged their problems.

    Reply
  36. Cafe au Lait

    Trying to manage my employee’s mistakes, particularly when it came to getting to work on time. One report I had was horrible at calling out, or coming in late. When I and my co-supervisor first addressed this with her, I jumped in with possible solutions. I kept trying to troubleshoot the issue for her, when really I just needed to address the problem and let her figure it out.

    We eventually had to fire her, and I wrote to Alison at the time because I was really upset. I felt like I had failed as a manager. What I learned was I hadn’t; firing her made the rest of the team stronger.

    Reply
  37. Rat Racer

    I gave a lot of constructive feedback but never went on to say “and these kinds of careless mistakes, failure to follow through are not OK; my expectation is that you can do XYZ independently now that you’ve been in this role for 2 years. As a result, when I finally got fed up and wanted to put this employee on a PIP, she was totally blindsided and I felt like I had totally screwed up.

    Reply
  38. Jen RO

    As a people manager – handholding/micromanaging. I still don’t quite know how to balance allowing new employees to make mistakes and having them reflected badly on me, as team leader…

    As a process manager – making changes without understanding the full context. I moved from one product to another within the same company and I thought I needed to apply Product 1 processes identically to Product 2 as well. I should have been way more flexible and asked more of the stakeholders before I made decisions.

    Reply
    1. Jen RO

      And one more for the people management part – I gave feedback, but I was not clear how big the problem was. (Once I made that clear, even though it wasn’t a comfortable conversation, the person in question improved significantly!)

      Reply
  39. JBPL

    I made tons of mistakes as a new manager. I was promoted to become the manager of my former peers, and it was awkward.
    1. I asked for input in EVERY decision I made. But I wasn’t clear that it was just input, not the way I’d ultimately decide to do something.
    2. Managing was really lonely (nobody else at this level in my organization, and just a board above me.) I did a terrible job of keeping my personal and professional stresses to myself. It made some people think I was playing favorites because there was one person with whom I’d discuss issues more often than others.
    3. I had very little tolerance for anyone who didn’t care about our mission as much as I did. I’ve since learned to appreciate those who just come to do a good job and earn a paycheck.

    Reply
  40. SheLooksFamiliar

    I was too inclusive with the first team I managed because I didn’t want to be seen as a micromanaging authoritarian. I got in the habit of getting input from my team on just about everything: What do you think about this vendor? What do you think about this process change? I’d like to do this differently, what do you think? And so on. If things needed to change I would spin it as a ‘group decision.’ One day my boss casually said, ‘I trust you to make good decisions, wouldn’t have promoted you if you didn’t. You don’t need to take a vote from your direct reports.’ It took a while to get comfortable with owning the decision making for the team, and knowing when to get their input, but I did.

    Reply
  41. Interviewer

    I fired someone for stealing thousands of dollars of client money, and it was a full-blown awful situation that dragged on for days. Then she fought for unemployment benefits, and we appealed. After the telephone hearing, which had gone really well for us, I went to the breakroom for a snack, and ran into a couple of coworkers. I couldn’t help myself, I had to share my good news, and I was downright gleeful describing the call. I boldly predicted there was no way she was getting benefits. We got the letter a couple of days later, and I was right.

    But to this day, I regret making such a crass display in the breakroom, about details they didn’t need to know. They all knew it was a bad situation, that we did the right thing, and they were all horrified – but I should have been far more discreet about that aspects of employee relations, especially to her former peers. I ended up apologizing privately to each of them a week or so later, assuring them that I would never behave that way again. A tough lesson learned.

    Reply
    1. Lusca

      Apologizing like that took guts and integrity, and if your coworkers are smart they should think so too. Thank for sharing!

      Reply
  42. Not The Droid You Are Looking For

    Not knowing how to properly delegate tasks. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to think about whether the process or the end result is important to me and explain that while delegating. Too often I would be upset that people didn’t do things the way I would have done.

    Confusing being driven, with being a jerk. I was promoted in part to my willingness to work 60+ hours a week for work. I didn’t know how to deal with people who were done at 5 pm, and didn’t understand wanting to have a work-life balance.

    Reply
    1. Blue

      How did you work on the second issue? My boss genuinely tries to be sensitive to the work-to-live mentality, but it doesn’t make any sense to him and that causes a real disconnect. He says he does not expect his reports to work on evenings/weekends, but then he keeps giving me high-level projects that prevent me from doing my actual job unless I’m willing to work on evenings/weekends. It’s starting to feel like we’re at an impasse.

      Reply
  43. Kate

    I was 25, and I had one direct report. She was fine; not stellar, but she got the job done. My direct supervisor LOATHED her. There were some small performance issues that I should have addressed better, but she wasn’t nearly as bad as my boss thought she was. I wasn’t confident enough or brave enough to stand up to my boss when she targeted her, and I still feel guilty about that. When I left that job, I swore I would never have a job that involved managing people again.

    Now, almost 15 years later, I’ve just started a job that involves managing a whole lot of people. It’s going a lot better this time, and I think that’s in large part due to my increased maturity. (And a lot of reading AAM.) My biggest issue now is figuring out how to track what everyone is doing, not just what I’m doing. I’m getting there, but I’ve tried about five different organization systems in the last two months.

    Reply
    1. NW Mossy

      Your point about maturity’s a really good one. I got passed over for a couple of management jobs in my early 30s, and in retrospect, I’m glad it took longer because it gave me a chance to develop some skills that I didn’t realize I really needed. I’m a lot better at patience and keeping a cool head in emotionally charged situations now, and it’s prevented me from falling into a few traps.

      Reply
    2. SomeoneLikeAnon

      OneNote – I use it for my reports. Each person gets their own tab. I can add in notes, meeting summaries, and emails for each person. I used to use those folders with the rings for notebook paper; but found the digital equivalent in One Note.

      Reply
  44. TeacherNerd

    I’m not a “manager” as such, but I am a teacher, and a big part of my job is managing 200+ teenagers ranging in age from 15 to 18. This is a big difference in maturity, even within the same classroom. What I learned really quickly was simply to listen, and to be extremely clear in my directions and expectations, which means sometimes explaining things in a different way. I also make a point of singling X number of students out and spending an extra minute or two with them each class. This isn’t a lot (and I can’t spend 20 minutes with each student each day), but it makes them feel seen and acknowledged, which really does pay dividends in getting work done and lessons taught (or, if it’s crap lesson, at least gotten through).

    Reply
    1. Gloucesterina

      I love your idea of having micro-office hours with individual students within a class, TeacherNerd! Adding it to my list of strategies to consider when I teach again.

      Reply
  45. EmilyG

    1. Believed that I was deciding with my team what to do by “consensus” which sounds good but just meant I wasn’t giving enough clear direction. These days, I ask pointed questions of job candidates who talk about consensus–it’s good, but I want to make sure they’re not mistaking it for a replacement for managing, as I once did.

    2. Got talked into hiring a candidate who we had reservations about, because no one could put their finger on what the concern was, specifically; we had no other qualified people to interview; and I was assured that we had a process for ending their employment during the probationary period if needed. Unfortunately the HR person who gave that assurance left soon afterward, and their replacement was too new(/nervous?) to take such a strong position.

    3. Let the person we’d had reservations about ride roughshod over me for a while, often because I was too astonished by her behavior to react in the moment. So were people above me in the organization, too! A learning experience for us all (which led to me finding AAM).

    4. I am probably still making mistakes now!

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      “often because I was too astonished by her behavior to react in the moment”

      I have been silent many, many times, not out of tacit acquiescence but because my jaw had hit the floor. The things people do! You just cannot predict crazy. There is no handbook or textbook that will ever prepare you for some of the stuff I have experienced.

      Reply
  46. Seal

    My biggest mistake as a new manager was not setting and enforcing boundaries with my part-time student employees. I had been an outstanding student library employee myself, which is how I got my first full-time job. Unfortunately, I was too young and inexperienced to realize how terribly dysfunctional that particular library was; the scars from that experience continue to affect my view of workplaces to this day. At any rate, I was pretty much left to my own devices there and because my previous boss had been overly friendly with the student workers, I thought it was fine to do the same. Huge mistake. The student workers started to assume they had the same level of authority as I did and were openly resentful when they were given direction or corrections. This was compounded by the fact that another women in the office was also a former student worker and not only went out of her way to befriend my student employees, she encouraged them to be subordinate and publicly questioned my decisions. So I was constantly the bad guy for simply doing my job. In retrospect, I should have fired all of the students and laid down the law with the woman who kept interfering.

    Reply
  47. Jenny Jenkins

    Not being patient. I have managed one direct report for over a year, but was recently promoted and started managing a team. One of my new reports is having trouble with attention to detail, and it is definitely something that would hold her back.

    We’ve had the same conversation about it week over week, which is frustrating. However, she is improving, but not as quickly as I’d like, and my own manager reminded me to be a bit more patient. She hasn’t been working at our company for very long, so I can’t expect her to do what I am able to do that quickly.

    Reply
  48. Another Non Profit Manager

    Oh gosh, I made hundreds of mistakes – the biggest ones were probably
    1. Not being empathetic enough, and trying to keep too much of a distance between myself and my staff, meaning I came off as aloof and a bit of a cold fish
    2. Not challenging the organisational approach to managing poor performance and behaviours (which was basically – “don’t do anything”).
    3. Not being confident enough to make decisions and stick with them, defending them all the way up the chain if needed
    I still make mistakes, I think everyone does, the key is owning them, learning from them and iteratively improving

    Reply
  49. Non profit new grad

    I’ve been a manager for all of three/four weeks, and I already realize some of the mistakes I’ve been making–probably being too casual with my employees, favorites (though it’s so early on I hope I can course correct on this), and above all time management. I wanted to get everything set up and done as quickly as possible; well, this meant that I stretched myself too thin on things while trying to be flexible on timing. I just graduated from college myself, and I manage college students. I’m not uncomfortable actually managing and giving direction or feedback, but I know I need to draw more of a line in all my interactions. This is a super helpful post for me moving forward!

    Reply
  50. Anon for now

    What I want to know is what tools/readings/experiences did people use to become better managers besides time and a willingness to learn.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      Personality testing, blogs like this, “do this” and “don’t do this” lists on the web, being receptive to feedback from employees (even when delivered in anger)

      Reply
    2. NW Mossy

      This is going to sound kind of horrible, but being a parent has made me a much better manager. I’m not trying to imply that my directs are like my kids, but rather that both situations involve me having a caring relationship towards someone that I’m also counting on to do things and behave well. It’s taught me a lot about how to give compassionate criticism and keep calm even when the other person is visibly and audibly melting down.

      Now, I find that my 6-year-old is my litmus test for if I’m explaining things clearly and being fair to my employees. I’m doing some performance management on a struggling employee right now, and I’ve been talking to her about it. Kids of this age are really focused on fairness, so she’ll call me out if she thinks my planned approach is “too mean” or otherwise off-kilter. And sometimes, she delivers truly brilliant one-liners like “Mommy, you need to tell her that she needs to get it together!”

      Reply
    3. Anon for mistake thread

      Based on a suggestion here from AAM, I have a running document for each of my reports where I write any feedback I want to give them that doesn’t need to be given right in that moment – good, bad, big, small, whatever. Then whenever I meet them I can look at the document and remember all the random things I wanted to tell them. It’s really helped me, especially with positive feedback and remembering to give specific praise.

      Reply
      1. Gloucesterina

        I have something like this for my students–I give a lot of written feedback, so they each have a Google Drive folder where all the feedback gets uploaded for them to access, and I can easily refer to it when we have formal or informal check-in conversations in office hours.

        Reply
    4. Newbie Manager

      HBR’s Guide to Managing People, and lots of reading archives here. I play a game with myself now where I’ll read a letter and try to guess what my answer would be. Sometimes I’m mostly right, sometimes there are little nuances that make my idea close-ish, but when I’m wrong, it’s a low stakes scenario for me as a hypothetical.

      Reply
      1. Gloucesterina

        This is really useful! When our teaching center does professional development workshops for new instructors, we use a lot of brainstorm-in-a-group-your-response-to-this-tricky-and-possibly-nightmare-inducing scenario.

        Now that I’ve been reading AAM for several months now, I’ve been struck by how much teaching and training teachers converges with understanding how to manage employees, but also not so surprised?

        Reply
    5. Saturnalia

      A book entitled Crucial Conversations was the only management training I received, and it was a gift from a peer of my boss. It is a really helpful book though!

      Reply
  51. Retail Lifer

    In my first management job I was afraid to confront employees who were doing a bad job. The only way I was comfortable enough to do it was by being overly nice about it. I managed mostly teenage girls and I didn’t want them to get too upset and cry (I’d seen it before) or overreact and quit (I’d seen it before), so I wound up downplaying everything way too much. Nothing I discussed with my employees wound up seeming like a big deal to them so whatever I tried to correct them on never changed.

    Reply
  52. New Manager

    Uh oh, guys. I am in a newly senior management position and I think I’m doing pretty well. That probably means I’m awful, right? Like, I’m so incompetent that I don’t know where I’m failing? I’m 35 and I’ve been working since high school, but I assume I am still terrible?

    Here’s what I already know could improve:
    –Be more firm in how I give instructions if I see that the task isn’t being done
    –Figure out how to be so tactful that I can influence managers above me to make changes without p!ssing them off (it’s a minefield because they’re so defensive)
    –Give more praise. I assume people generally know how valued they are, but I could definitely do more

    Reply
    1. Young and Managing

      I think at this point, it’s really helpful to be reflective after you take action. I did this a lot a first and realized I probably could have done things even slightly better and tried to improve next time. Or I asked for feedback (from other managers, my mangers, mentors, etc.) and that also helped point out mistakes.

      Reply
      1. New Manager

        Yes, and I hear you on the under-confidence issue. But really–if the general rule is that everyone makes lots of mistakes as a new manager, and I don’t feel like I am, isn’t the risk more that I’m overestimating myself rather than under-? That was my question.

        Reply
        1. Detective Amy Santiago

          Schedule a meeting with your supervisor and ask for direct feedback.

          “I feel like things are going well, but I want to check in and make sure I’m not missing anything. I am doing X, Y, and Z and I am planning to work on implementing A, B, & C.”

          Reply
        2. Argh!

          I don’t necessarily see under-confidence. Even in the 21st century, there is a possibility of subconscious sexist bias in the workplace.

          –Be more firm in how I give instructions if I see that the task isn’t being done

          Have you been using wishy-washy language, as women have been indoctrinated to do? Or do you just not remember to give deadlines and be available for questions? Being afraid of conflict or of giving offense can be at the root of stuff like this, and even in the 21st century, girls are socialized to be that way.

          –Figure out how to be so tactful that I can influence managers above me to make changes without p!ssing them off (it’s a minefield because they’re so defensive)

          Have you *not* been using wishy-washy language, as women are expected to do? If a man makes a suggestion is he brilliant? If you say the same thing are you uppity? Are these higher-ups from an older generation? Are they men? Is it really your communication style or their expectations that give offense? If there are other women around, watch them. Are they deferential and self-effacing? Who is able to speak up in a meeting and not offend? I like the advice I saw here the other day to be an anthropologist studying your own workplace culture.

          If the people below you aren’t taking you seriously enough but the people above you take you too seriously, is it really just about your communication style?

          –Give more praise. I assume people generally know how valued they are, but I could definitely do more

          You don’t have to tell someone how brilliant they are (I call that existential praise). Task-specific praise that ties your appreciation to the workplace goals gives them reinforcement for your values, and they can extrapolate for themselves if they are therefore brilliant or not. Existential praise leads to a lot of anxiety, in my opinion, because the corollary is that making a mistake means you’re stupid when in reality it just means you’re human.

          When I realized that it became easier for me to dispense positive feedback because I wasn’t being patronizing or assuming a parental role. I don’t like being responsible for someone’s self-esteem but I can assume responsibility for giving them the kind of information they need to form an honest self-assessment.

          Reply
  53. Extra anon

    Does anyone have advice on how to be a good employee of a first-time manager? I may move into a new role in the next few months as someone’s first direct report. We’ve already worked together on some projects and that’s gone really well, and I have a huge amount of respect for his work, so I think it will be a good arrangement. Are there any things that employees can do to smooth the transition for their managers?

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      Ask for what you need (which means thinking about what you need). Take personality tests not just to figure out what “type” you are but to learn about types in general. Most people don’t think too much about what goes on in another person’s head, so you have to tell them what goes on in your head if things go awry. You might say things like “I need more details” or “I need not to be distracted by email while I’m proof reading so please call me if you want an immediate response” or “Please give me deadlines so I can be sure to prioritize.”

      Rule of thumb: What should go without saying often needs to be said.

      Reply
      1. Shark Whisperer

        I have to say I hate personality tests, but at a manager retreat all the managers in my department had to do the People Map and it was super helpful! One of the things the People Map does is say how the different personalities like to communicate and solve problems. It was really useful to use that as a baseline for talking with each other and our direct reports on how communications styles differ and how to communicate or present problems in such a way that you get the best response out of the other person.

        Reply
    2. Somniloquist

      There’s a Harvard Business Review article about managing your manager. Not in a manipulative way, but just finding out how he likes to receive and process information, what his personal style is and adapting your work proactively.

      I also love Alison’s advice on how to be a good employee in general, and the part about feedback, particularly.

      Reply
    3. DDJ

      Tell your manager what you need if you’re not getting it! If someone works really well, the assumption is that they’re going to keep on trucking along and be fine. Particularly if it’s this person’s first time in a management capacity, he may feel like he’s being pulled in a lot of different directions (especially if he also has to fill a fair number of operational requirements and the people management side is just “on the side.” If you need support on a project, tell him. If you need to push a deadline, tell him. If you feel out of your depth and you need some coaching or training, tell him.

      The hardest thing for me as a new manager was figuring out what my people needed and how to get it for them. There were a lot of issues that I “inherited” that I didn’t know about. Processes that had fallen apart that were ignored by previous managers, tasks that were dumped on people that shouldn’t have been, but they were too nice to say no and they had become a case of “this is just something we do now.”

      And your manager might not be able to fix everything or give you everything you might need, but they definitely can’t do anything if they don’t know that things need addressing.

      Reply
  54. Argh!

    I have made quite a few mistakes and I wish I could say they were all in the first year.

    I actually had a very good first-time experience. I had a good boss, excellent colleagues, and I was able to pick most of my own staff. I managed to instill a sense of pride in work well done and a sense of teamwork. My boss was receptive to ideas about how to make improvements, so things that didn’t work when I got there were smoothed out by the time I left. If I made any mistakes, my boss was so great at helping me improve things that I really don’t remember my goofs.

    Biggest mistake: In one position, I inherited someone who is a procrastinator and we had seasonal deadlines. I got anxious about stuff not being done at a fast enough pace to meet the deadline (and I was right about that), so I jumped in and did some of the work and delegated some of it to another staff member who had less to do. This was a mistake in the short term because things got garbled and had to be fixed later. This was also a mistake in the long run because Mr. Procrastinator then believed that all he had to do was drag his feet and others would rescue him. I had to have a stern talk about not expecting other people to do your job, and sent him to time management classes. He was far too arrogant to learn anything, however, and continued to drag his feet, but now with the added resentment of hating being told he needed to improve. It seems he was too good for his job, so he procrastinated on everything he didn’t like to do, and he just didn’t care if his work was sloppy and late. I wound up having to micromanage this person, which is tedious and time-consuming, but at least he started accepting responsibility for job duties and grew up a little. I hate having to tell someone that if you’re being paid to do a job, you have to do it whether you like it or not. (Case in point: I am paid to manage lousy workers and I do it despite hating to tell adults to stop whining!)

    Another mistake: my best-qualified hire EVER had a totally different personality and background from mine, which I thought was great. I didn’t want someone who was a carbon copy of myself. But… since she had such great qualifications, I assumed she didn’t need much guidance. She was a procrastinator but for a different reason from lazy boy described above. In Myers-Briggs terminology she was a “J” to an extreme degree. I am a “P” and I didn’t understand that not everybody can work out a process for themselves the way that I can. I gave her vague instructions and she froze. My instructions were “Copy the format that your predecessor used, but instead of describing teapots you’ll be describing coffee pots.” I would not have expected a well-qualified person to find that an intimidating concept, but she did. She was completely stuck, and I had to figure out how to explain things in a way that her brain could process. This was tough for me, as I would just jump in and figure things out as I went if given those instructions. If someone gives me step by step instructions I ignore them until I’ve made a mistake or get confused. So I had to think like her rather than expecting her to think like me. Lesson learned: Don’t take the “Golden Rule” too literally.

    Mistake #3: Following the advice of a supervisor who isn’t a good supervisor. I didn’t realize how horrible my boss was until I started doing the same dysfunctional behaviors my reports did. I was responding to her the way they responded to me, and they responded to me based on what I’d copied from her. I realized I had to redirect my management style, using other past experience, blogs like this, books, training, etc. to keep from sending a dysfunctional management style down through the ranks. I was still unhappy with my boss but at least I had better relationships with the people I supervised.

    Reply
  55. Akcipitrokulo

    I kind of got thrown in at the deep end and didn’t do well. I was senior team member… me and more junior colleague here and 3 offshore. I’d been in the job a few months when my manager (of whole team) was suddenly taken ill and was out of office for almost 2 months.

    So I had to take over managing the team. Right at busy part of new project that would have been challenging anyway I kind of got thrown in at the deep end and didn’t do well. I was senior team member… me and more junior colleague here and 3 offshore. I’d been in the job a few months when my manager (of whole team) was suddenly taken ill and was out of office for almost 2 months.

    So I had to take over managing the team. Right at busy part of new project that would have been challenging anyway as it was a huge project to release an entirely new flagship product, and I was still relatively new. And we had a very new project manager who didn’t always get it right but was absolutely certain that he did.

    Junior team member had been there 2 weeks longer and while a great guy who worked hard, did tend to argue. PM and him wound each other up (I later came to realise PM hadn’t been impressed with manager’s style and was trying to manage us “correctly” in background)

    Offshore didn’t argue, but… I’m not sure where the balance of blame lies between us, but things were misunderstood about what I needed them to do.

    I ended up not making instructions clear to offshore team, who would do their own thing if I didn’t, not being strong enough about “no, do it THIS way”, particularly with awesome but argumentative junior and ended up way stressed out trying to manage and do my day job and repair what offshore had got wrong… which soon got out of control as I lost track of where everyone was.

    But the biggest error? Which was a major factor in all the others?

    I didn’t ask for help.

    I thought I was expected to be able to handle it, so I was failing if I didn’t, and having just left a VERY toxic workplace just got more and more stressed, and more and more scared of being told off not just for failing but or not telling at the start I was struggling.

    And because outwardly I seemed to be coping and everyone else was up to the eyes in it and didn’t have usual one to ones, no-one noticed! (Which is NOT a criticism. I was good at looking as if was coping. )

    Nevery been so glad to welcome a manager back when he recovered!

    Now, 3 years later, new manager is concentrating on his other role more and I’m managing most day-day team issues and task planning…. and am a lot better at keeping control of where things are. A lot of that is being confident that I am competent and I am valued here. Old manager, new manager and big boss have all been very clear about how much they know I’m good at what I do and show appreciation. And helped build me up after project didn’t actually fall apart during my lead! (Actually somehow got it out within a reasonable time!)

    Reply
  56. dear liza dear liza

    I didn’t understand the importance of documentation. It took much longer to resolve a very troublesome employee situation because while I had many conversations with Percival, I hadn’t documented them.

    Reply
    1. HR Bee

      As an HR person, this is one of the biggest mistakes I see managers making, even old-hat managers. Upper management is becoming increasingly aware of how important documentation is and they will question frontline managers who don’t have strong documentation, and may even stop them from firing a problem employee because of it.

      Reply
      1. Academic Librarian

        And document minor stuff. Coming in five minutes late isn’t a big deal. Documenting it and later seeing a pattern means getting rid of a problem employee sooner rather than later.

        Reply
      2. Argh!

        The other thing about documentation: Don’t just compile a list of grudges! You have to document your attempts to correct the situation. I used to think just keeping track of misdeeds constituted “documentation” until HR told me I couldn’t take action based on my notes. Back to the beginning! (And I was able to correct the situation)

        Reply
  57. Mazzy

    Cross manage other managers. If another dept head isn’t managing his people and let’s them socialize all day, and that’s what his people want to do or they make certain types of errors and are never corrected.then it’s a heck of a lot harder to manage your people with a similar issue or making similar issues. Then you become the mean nitpicker instead of you being reasonable and the other managers not doing their job

    Reply
  58. JuniperJones

    I gave mixed messages to the team so that they weren’t clear where boundaries were in terms of things their roles were flexible on and things they weren’t. I was also too laid back about performance issues of a direct report who openly disliked me – and I learnt the hard way on that one.

    Reply
  59. NW Mossy

    My biggest flub in my first year was thinking that I couldn’t manage poor behavior towards others as the performance problem it truly is. I had a brilliant jerk on my team that I waited way too long to intervene seriously on, and given how well that employee turned herself around once I did start to really manage it, I wish I’d done it so much earlier. Initially it felt to me like I’d be judging her personality and that’s unfair, but once I learned how to articulate the problem as “here’s what you’re doing and here’s the impact,” I got a lot better at addressing the issue.

    Reply
  60. Awful manager

    I had my first and only management position for about 6 months before the law firm I worked for shut down and I decided I never wanted to manage people again. I came onboard (I was 28 at the time) managing 2 people who were COMPLETELY awful. Amy was a pyscho everyone except the attorney she supported hated her (everyone knew who she was and even the C level HR person wanted her out). She fired for multiple offenses of bringing a weapon into work (nothing violent). The other, Meagan, had applied for my job before I was hired and rejected, and she made it obvious that she didn’t like me. The firm should have definitely not hired someone without management experience to manage these 2 loons. Amy went over my head with everything I said (even to the point where we were cutting out budget on snacks and weren’t going to order these effing blueberry muffins she wanted) and Meagan and I had so much tension that she ended up screaming and crying at me in my office because I asked her to do something she didn’t want to, then found a new job a week later and quit.

    After this I realized I do not want to manage people. I’m way too non-confrontational and I’m also a lone wolf when I work so I don’t like giving direction or handing out tasks because I would rather do them myself.

    Reply
  61. lionelrichiesclayhead

    Allowing myself to be given the title of manager but none of the authority which meant I couldn’t actually do anything about the issues in the group or address them with any real conviction. Total disaster. And I was completely weak about addressing it with leadership.

    Reply
  62. Director of Programs at small nonprofit

    I made the huge mistake of not being targeting and specific in my language for completing tasks.
    I was managing a fairly young employee with limited experience (in a professional role at a non-profit). I would ask her to complete tasks by saying, “When you get a chance, please send me those reports.” Or, “Would you mind sending that over as soon as you can?”
    I have always been a boss-pleaser and recognized those phrases as “do it now or very soon.” She read those phrases as suggestions that she would get to if she could and if she felt like it. I was nearly ready to fire her before I recognized that if I just changed the phrase to,”Please send me those reports asap,” she would get them done asap. I caused my own headache for months and almost missed out on keeping a great employee!

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      I have had a boss like that and that wishy-washy language caused a lot of undue stress. She expected me to “just know” what she meant (she literally said that), and when I asked for deadlines and specific instructions she thought I was being too demanding. To top it off, she told me I was the only one of her reports who didn’t read her mind, and I eventually learned that everybody hated her for the same reasons, and no, they didn’t read her mind!

      At least you learned your lesson. My boss never did.

      Reply
      1. Akcipitrokulo

        Best boss I every had was wonderfully pedantic ( not in micro managing or nasty way) …. when he sent an email you knew exactly what he wanted.

        (Except once… he was going on holiday..

        Boss: Don’t break Charles or Max.
        Me: OK.
        Me: I won’t break Charles OR Max.
        Boss: Break neither Charles nor Max!

        Reply
  63. Molly

    I didn’t document everything I should have. I didn’t save emails consistently. I didn’t summarize meetings unless they were already facing disciplinary action. I should have created more contemporaneous memos when an employee had a complaint and then documented my investigations. It was really hard to show ongoing patterns of problematic behavior because I didn’t document anything until it was already over the line, when it wouldn’t have cost anything (other than maybe five minutes here and there) to just put it in a word document with dates and facts.

    Reply
    1. Academic Librarian

      advice on this. Send an email summary of every meeting and incident to yourself with the employees initials in the subject heading. Then you have written documentation that can be easily searched if things go bad to worse.

      Reply
      1. Argh!

        I have started keeping a journal and then saving as a .pdf periodically for the datestamp just in case. I think I’ll start emailing it to myself too!

        Reply
      2. NW Mossy

        I use Microsoft OneNote to document every one-on-one I have with all of my directs, and it’s a basic template – a simple chart for the date/time we met, what the employee had for me, and what I discussed with them. It’s super-helpful for everyday management too – it’s a parking lot where I can put things I want to talk about next time, a record of questions they asked I need to find answers on, and lets me spot trends in our discussions.

        I recently showed it to an HR rep who’s helping me with a performance issue and it was a great credibility builder. When you can demonstrate a history of routinely keeping notes about all your employees, it makes it clear that you take this stuff seriously and it’s a whole lot easier to get them on board for acting decisively rather than stringing things out.

        Reply
    2. Argh!

      Live and learn! You have to be an optimist to be a manager, but being an optimist means thinking “that’s just a one-off” or that your serious talk will have a serious impact. People disappoint us sometimes.

      Reply
  64. Anon for mistake thread

    I didn’t follow up adequately on important onboarding topics. Once a new team member was done with onboarding, I just assumed they had absorbed all the details they needed. One team member I onboarded didn’t know how to allocate her expenses from her company credit card correctly, and ending up with a first warning from our accounting department, because I didn’t sit back down with her at the end of her first month and walk her through our expense system again to make sure she understood now that she had actual expenses to deal with. Another team member accidentally set off the door alarm in our building and couldn’t give her false alarm code in time because the only time she got that information was on her very first day here, so the police came out and the department got billed. And yes, both of these team members could have taken more notes during onboarding or come to me to ask for help, but these things are important enough that I really should have double-checked with them.

    Reply
  65. Way too Stiff

    When I became a manager for the first time I was so scared of saying the wrong thing that I was super stiff. I even realized later that my posture would get super straight and formal, and I spoke like a robot. My team took it as I didn’t care about them, which I can totally understand it coming across as. I had an HR rep at one point tell me to not worry so much, that as a new manager i WILL say the wrong thing sometimes, even as an experienced manager I might, and we would handle and learn from it when it happened. Once I took that in I completely relaxed with my team, even made sure that my posture changed, got more informal with them(but still professional) and had a complete turn around in how we worked together.

    Reply
  66. designbot

    I think my first time out I was too ready to solve problems myself, because that’s what got me where I am. But after a while I realized that the result was a junior designer who interrupted me 5-10 times a day to ask little questions that I felt she should be able to find the answer to herself 9/10 times. Now I stifle my impulse to just tell them the answers.

    Reply
  67. AnonAcademic

    I thought part of my job as a manager was to buffer my reports from their grand bosses’ wrath to reduce staff turnover and improve morale. A mentor of mine likened it to a mother protecting a child from an emotionally abusive dad – it is only a short term strategy, in the long term it reinforces and enables the pattern. Since I accepted that my bosses’ style will inevitably drive out good people (we’ve had 3 people in the same role in the past 2 years), I’ve decided it’s better to create my own exit plan rather than try to fix my current situation. He doesn’t want to change so there’s nothing fixable and being the punching bag for his aggression was wearing on me. The upside is that due to this situation I finally found diplomatic ways to say “Yeah that person sucks and isn’t going to change.”

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      Ugh! I am job-searching because of boss and grand-boss myself. Grand-boss is a bully and staff morale is getting worse since he arrived. Even if I don’t get hammered myself, being around people who are walking on eggshells is exhausting.

      Reply
  68. Phideaux

    I was hired in as a new employee in my first managerial position, so I didn’t have to deal with the friends-as-supervisor issue, but there was one person who felt he should have been promoted into that position. Despite the fact that I was his supervisor, he often tried to manage me. First mistake Part 1 was not shutting down this behavior from the start. Other employees started picking sides, so some I had full cooperation and respect, others wouldn’t listen to a word I said.

    Fast forward a few months, found out why this person wasn’t promoted. He couldn’t do even the basics of the job without mistakes and rework. Everything he touched was a disaster. When I talked to my boss, his response was, “Well, fire him” So I did, first mistake Part 2. No warnings, so coaching or problem solving, nothing. Just called him in on a Friday afternoon and told him not to bother coming back on Monday. Needless to say he was quite shocked and asked for another chance. Trying to be the hard a$$, I said nope, you’re outta here. Of course, I felt like crap immediately afterwards, talked to my boss about re hiring, and he said no, they’ve been wanting to get rid of him for years, now it’s done. I vowed that if I ever had to let an employee go, he or she would know it’s coming when it happens. It hasn’t been perfect in the 20+ years since then, but I’ve had no regrets in that area since then.

    Reply
  69. Startup Hell Lisa

    I took on a problem employee in a new job when I was warned in advance she was a problem and that the organization was willing to terminate her before I arrived to take over the management of the team. I made the decision to try to “fix” her instead because I felt she had just been under-managed and needed some feedback. That WAS exactly the case, but in the long run the work environment was making her miserable because of the bridges she had already burned, and I did not do her any favors by keeping her. She quickly became much happier when she finally left on her own.

    Let a recruiter convince me that reference checking is pointless because nobody ever says anything negative on a reference check; didn’t check references on someone it turned out had been fired multiple times for exactly the same problems I ended up having to fire her for.

    Reply
  70. Leah the Admin

    As a first time manager, I find this very comforting. I’m a month in and I think I’ve avoided all the issues described so far, and a few more to “watch out for.” My method coming in was to remember the things my most-liked managers and most dis-liked managers did – to know what to do and what to avoid. So far feedback from my team has been good, and I’m working daily to build trust/relationships with them. I think I’ve lucked out in having a good team to start with!

    Reply
  71. Ramona Flowers

    I’m not a manager now (I’m a very contented individual contributor!) but in my 20s I worked in retail while I was at college and was a shift supervisor – I couldn’t hire and fire, though I managed the team on-shift so apologies if this doesn’t count for this thread.

    I had a staff member who slacked off very badly – think sitting in the changing rooms doing nothing when everyone else was busy. I told her several times, not unkindly, that she needed to do X and Y, and not do Z. Her reaction was to make a false complaint against me, accusing me of bullying her for being in a protected class. My store manager said she was sorry as she knew it was false but she had to investigate. I said I totally understood and would be concerned if she didn’t investigate as it was the right thing to do (which seems pretty wise from 22 year old me).

    What I did wrong: not asking her why she wasn’t doing X or Y and was doing Z. Just telling her what to do and never asking if there was a problem and what it was.

    Reply
  72. kindnessisitsownreward

    I did not properly deal with an employee who had a bad attitude and was basically bullying other people. I mistakenly thought he could be rehabilitated and spent way too much time and energy on helping him ‘understand’ something he had no intention of understanding. Next time—direct, quick, get with the program or move on, zero tolerance.

    Reply
  73. Jake

    I’ve only ever managed 3 people (and never more than 2 at once). They were all administrative assistants.

    My biggest mistake was under utilizing them. Looking back, there was so much I was doing myself, working 60+hours a week while one of the admins was looking for work to do! I spent an inordinate amount of time doing admin tasks that they could’ve easily handled, but I didn’t hand them off because it was outside of their normal scope (but certainly within their capabilities!).

    Reply
  74. Lora

    The office politics. I figured I’d just stay out of them, and cheerlead for my team and everyone else could manage their own business. OH HECK NO. It’s one thing to keep an arm’s length from office politics, but you should know they exist, know their dynamics and flavor, and manage upwards or sideways accordingly. My team was getting crapped on by a bunch of finger-pointing ding-dongs whose manager absolutely refused accountability, and until I put together metrics that demonstrated my team was awesome, merely cheerleading and presenting them as the experts in whatever they were great at, nobody believed a word of it.

    Also, underestimating sexism higher up in the chain and the whole white collar vs. blue collar thing. I still struggle with it and often there’s nothing I can do about it, but I know it’s there and I actively make an effort to work on it. Hide my accent, dress nicer, pay attention to subtleties and be patient in meetings. Compartmentalize. That famous quote from Germaine Greer is right: women have very little idea of how much men hate them. I didn’t really get it until I had a desk near the vice president and was treated like a piece of furniture (this is a normal side effect of being a middle-aged woman, you get an invisibility cloak) and heard the men talking amongst themselves. Probably just my industry/STEM, but the utter garbage that comes out of the mouths of WAAAAYYY more men than you’d imagine will destroy your faith in humanity. I’d had male colleagues warn me away from specific organizations, saying that the sexism was especially bad there, and they’d given me what they considered “tame” examples, but I still didn’t think it was quite that bad.

    Reply
  75. Still Learning 20 Years Later

    My first management role was leading a team of two techs. I was in my early 20s and one of the team members was a man in his 50s who was incredibly polite, agreed with everything I said, and then ignored me completely and did whatever he felt like doing. The other team member was great and a very hard worker, and since I had no idea how to manage I basically leaned on him to help me cover the other team member’s slack. In addition I also had a boss who would undermine me for reasons I never understood (for example, he’d call my suppliers, find out when I was meeting them next, and cancel the meeting without telling me). I had no idea how to manage up or what to do about it. I ended up quitting that job and staying away from management for years. I still have a lot to learn but one thing I’m not afraid of anymore is having difficult conversations. Never pleasant, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised a few times to find that my working relationship with an employee actually improves after we have a difficult conversation. (Certainly not every time, but it’s great when it does happen.)

    Reply
  76. LibraryLil

    I assumed that we (departmental staff) were all on the same page as far as being reasonable, sane, dedicated adults and that any issues or problems would work themselves through without much intervention from me. Many messy conflicts later, I finally realized that intervening is necessary and usually earlier is better.

    I also learned that the mental build-up to having the Difficult Conversation far more taxing than most of the actual Conversations.

    Reply
  77. plynn

    When I became a manager, an employee that had been my supervisor was suddenly my direct report. I had the hardest time transitioning from reporting to him to directing and assessing his work. It didn’t help that my new vantage point revealed that he was actually sloppy, ineffective and resistant to change in any form. I wasn’t direct and firm at first, but then I was so desperate that I read some management books and took a class on conflict management to help me handle the situation. Then I was direct and firm and consistent and it DIDN’T WORK. I wasn’t prepared for someone who just didn’t care and was basically coasting until they got fired.

    I ended seeking help from my manager, who asked me to write a general history of his performance issues and what I’d done to address them. I tried to be fair, to the point of minimizing his behavior, but when I read over what I had written I was shocked. It was so egregious and so prolonged, my first thought was “oh crap, I’m going to get fired for not firing this guy”.

    (luckily I wasn’t, but I would have deserved it!)

    Reply
  78. Drama Llama

    I was terrible at firing people.

    On one occasion, I tried to minimise the negative consequences and offered an unrealistic exit deal that didn’t work out in the end. The employee deserved the firing, but I inflicted additional inconvenience and stress which was unfair to him.

    Another time I had to terminate a long term employee for medical incapacity. I came up with several reasonable alternatives to termination but it required slightly changing her job description or relocating her to a different but nearby branch. She is a difficult person in general and stubbornly refused, insisting that we keep her job open for several months until she recovered. I engaged with her way too long and the termination process took several weeks. In hindsight it’s not my responsibility to try to make an unreasonable person agree with me. I should have just ended her employment immediately when she flatly refused all my suggestions. The whole process ended up being incredibly stressful on her, me, her manager, and other colleagues who got involved due to their personal and family links with her.

    In my early days I tried too hard to soften the blow of firing people. I now see it’s going to be unpleasant no matter what, and I have to accept that. The best thing I can do is treat employees with respect during the process. But if an employment relationship needs to be severed, it’s often best to do so quickly like ripping off a band aid.

    Reply
  79. Susiedoesbooks

    Today is the 2nd anniversary of the start of my roll in management. It’s been a wild ride. I started with 3 reports, went to 9, then 5 and now back to 3. That’s a crazy story that HR and my manager swear wasn’t my fault, but it makes me feel like a complete failure.

    I had to put one of the original 3 direct reports on a PIP in the first 3 months, which she remained on for another 6 months. I wanted to get rid of her and start fresh with somebody who would respect my position. (The position was new in the company and she had previously reported to my boss.) But, HR & my manager made me dragggg her along. Almost a year and half later, she still doesn’t respect me, poo’poo’s all my ideas, and is generally insubordinate. However, if I go to HR or my manager, all I hear is how *I* need to step up manage her better. It’s almost broken my spirit.

    Being a manager is not for the faint of heart.

    Reply
  80. Casca

    I was caught off-guard when I was first a manager because I was replacing someone suddenly rather than moving to a role I applied for.
    My biggest mistakes all came from not being proactive enough with my director. For example, I assumed that if we could replace me for the duration, then someone would tell me, so I never asked and we were down a body for that 9 months.
    Or I thought if we should be invited/involved, my director would tell me that, but I should have been identifying opportunities for our involvement and taking it to the director.

    Reply
  81. Where's the Le-Toose?

    Where to start on my list of new supervisor mistakes!

    1. Rewriting my employees’ work rather than delegating to them the task to fix what they had overlooked the first time.
    2. Letting a problem employee cause morale problems for 3 months because I didn’t want to appear as hard nosed.
    3. Treating weak performers and strong performers the same. Definitely two kettle of fish.
    4. Giving the impression that I had favorites when in reality I didn’t. And realizing way way too late into my first year that frequently the perceptions your direct reports have of you shape your reputation as a boss a lot more than the facts.
    5. Some employees, whether by design, complete ignorance, or narcissism, have no idea they did a bad job unless you say, “you did a bad job.”
    6. Thinking that everyone who worked for me had the same work ethic and the same passion to get the job done.

    But I survived year one and stayed as a supervisor for three years, and then promoted again to manager where I’ve been for four years. And now with a team of 19 to manage, I’m still learning.

    Reply
  82. Very anon

    I needed an assistant. A friend needed a job, and had the qualifications I needed. Match made in heaven!

    Except, not. Because it turned out that where I saw her as my assistant first, she saw me as her friend first, and took it personally if I criticized her – so I tried not to do that very often (which was a mistake, because she needed the feedback). Also, we shared an office.

    The day I realized “I’m going to have to fire her if she doesn’t leave first” was the day our C-level supervisor called me while my assistant and another employee were chatting, and I asked them to step outside for a few minutes while I took the call. It turned out to be more than a few minutes, because his questions required me to do some research, and my assistant stood in the hallway where I could see her, sullenly glaring at me, the whole time. At one point she even came back in and very pointedly sat in her chair with a “I dare you to kick me out a second time” look on her face, and got even more upset when I did just that.

    At the conclusion of the call, I brought her back in and got as far as “We need to talk about what just happened” before she launched into a 20-minute full-volume diatribe about how disrespectful I had been for throwing HER out of HER office and how if I needed to take an extended phone call, I should find somewhere else to do it. I tried to point out that, one, it was my office too and I outranked her, and two, I needed to be at my computer to get the information our C-level needed, but she steamrolled me.

    The first mistake I made that day was not explaining better that the C-level was on the phone, that I needed to get some sensitive information off my computer, and that it would probably be a little while. The second was not firing her on the spot, because the situation did not improve from there, and it ended up wrecking not just a productive working arrangement but our friendship as well.

    Reply
  83. Lionheart26

    Going in WAY too hard to bat for a direct report. My team member came to me with a legitimate problem. When he couldn’t be in the office, his administrative assistant was always told to cover his front-facing tasks (Not by me! Cover was assigned by higher management).
    I agreed with his points: his assistant was not trained or paid to do the role; We actually had a policy that stated all interactions with clients needed to be done by trained associates; this didn’t happen to any other team. It was pretty obvious that what was happening was management was struggling to find coverage and had decided that the work our department did was not specialist enough to bother with the policy.

    He was pretty riled by this, and I got riled up too. I knew that we needed to be solutions focused, rather than just complain, so I had our whole team brainstorm some solutions, then I wrote them all down and emailed them to my boss. The first suggestion was that he come and do the cover himself.

    Needless to say this didn’t go down well. Our boss was a narcissistic asshole, so perhaps this wouldnt have been so egregious in a functioning workplace, but I was summonsed to the boss’ office and yelled at by him and HR, and the assistant who had originally made the request had a “strike” added to her file.

    Reply
  84. LMB27

    1. Being/remaining friends within the work setting with those I was now managing. It works in some cases and in other cases its a disaster.
    2. Fixing the mistakes of employees and then complaining about it instead of showing them how to do it right.
    3. NOT DELEGATING
    4. Not believing I was worthy of the job.

    It took a year or so before I calmed down and settled into being a manager. It’s still hard, I still make mistakes.

    Reply
  85. Lucy

    Taking things too personally -one thing I’ve learned as a manager is you have to toughen up and not take things to heart . Having the confidence to own your authority whilst treating people fairly and with respect took time for me . I can be friendly and kind but -I no longer feel the need to apologise for being the manager or worry about being liked

    Not being organised and setting boundaries and expectations clearly. I was good at being empathetic and approachable , always making time for employees f2f and naively I thought this was enough . Quickly it became clear that without a consistent structured approach my energy and time was drained and I became frustrated that things weren’t being done. Putting in the prep to put ALL important tasks and KPis in writing and providing clear expectations has paid off and is a lot more productive for everyone

    Reply

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