Managing people is difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Avoid these four assumptions to make your job and your employees’ lives easier.
If you’re a CEO or key executive in a growing company, you face many challenges. Almost daily you’re dealing with everything from developing a clear strategy and creating efficient processes to driving profitability and ensuring proper cash flow.
However, as a business and executive coach, the one I see my clients struggle the most with is people management. It requires you to develop a diverse set of tools for dealing with different situations, and successful leaders know that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this job.
While there is no one simple solution, there are four common mistakes many managers make. These are assumptions that are easy to make and will lead to poor decisions, misunderstandings, and suboptimal results.
Poor managers assume that their perspective is the only one that matters, sometimes the only one that exists. Great managers understand that there are many vantage points, they work hard to collect information, and they appreciate differences. They take the time to understand different points of view, even if they don’t agree with them.
Take time to collect information and different points of view. When presenting ideas and making requests, consider the perspective of the other person and how he or she is going to perceive your request. The more you can take into account his situation, the more successful you’ll be as a manager.
I’ve worked with many very senior managers who assume that when they say something, other people understand it. Communication is, in fact, a very complicated process involving ideas, sound creation, transmission, reception, interpretation, and comprehension. Each of these is fraught with the potential for errors.
Great managers know that any one of these steps can fail and cause confusion. First, they work hard to clarify their own thoughts and requests before they communicate. And once they clarify, they know they need to repeat communication multiple times in different ways to ensure that a message is delivered successfully. Finally, they have people relay back to them their understanding so as to ensure the precise message was delivered correctly.
The only thing that frustrates employees more than when a manager changes their mind is when that same manager then claims that’s what they always wanted. Managers are not infallible and employees don’t expect them to be, but they do expect managers to be aware of their fallibility and to know that they are inconsistent and forgetful sometimes.
Great managers know themselves; they know they will change their minds and shift priorities from time to time. They establish processes and systems to capture their decisions and commitments because they know everyone forgets. And when they do change their minds, they are quick to acknowledge it and focus on the go-forward actions rather than debating what was previously agreed to.
Unsuspecting managers easily fall into the trap of the fundamental attribution error. They quickly explain any and all of their shortcomings or failures as the result of external circumstance and factors. Yet when their employees fall short, they attribute it to character flaws and personal deficiencies.
They say things like, “I was late to the meeting because traffic was bad. You were late to the meeting because you didn’t leave enough time.” It happens to everyone. It’s just the way our minds are wired. But when managing people, the fundamental attribution error is a huge liability.
Good managers know and understand that everyone has internal and external challenges they need to overcome. Good managers don’t overgeneralize meanings in any specific situation and they work to focus on improvements rather than blame because they understand that the vast majority of issues are the results of defective systems, not people.
And nearly all solutions can be found by putting better processes and procedures in place. While you need to be careful of bureaucracy, focus on putting structure and routine in place rather than punishments to improve results.
No manager is perfect and every manager will fall victim to one or more of these assumptions at times. Great managers are on the lookout for these pitfalls and will consequently avoid them more often. And when great managers do find themselves in one of these traps, they are quick to realize it and get themselves out before irreparable damage is done.
Bruce Eckfeldt is an entrepreneur, a former Inc 500 CEO, and member of
the New York City Chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. He is an expert in organizational performance and coaches startups and
high-growth companies on leadership and management.
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