The transition from technical expert to first-time leader is a difficult step and one that causes many to stumble and fail. I know this from personal experience.
In fact, I initially struggled to get the respect of my team, almost lost control and failed to deliver the project I was leading. Fortunately, I had a very supportive manager who stepped in and helped to pull me through that ordeal so I could ultimately make the grade. But the lesson was clear: Too often, people are put into leadership positions without the appropriate training, and they just simply struggle.
Here are six common mistakes that rookie managers make, which can cause them to fail.
1. Believe they have all the answers
When you appoint technical experts to leadership positions without the appropriate management skills, they believe that it’s their technical experience which will save them, and they start to believe that either they have, or need to have all the answers. This can lead to team members to feel uninvolved and uncommitted.
2. Too hands off
What a lot of people fail to realize is that with every promotion comes more work not less. When leaders make that mistake, they become hands-off, sitting in their office and leaving everything to their team. As a leader you are heavily involved in defining the goals, setting the vision, inspiring the team and leading the charge. Leadership is not a hands-off paper shuffling job.
3. Too hands on
Just because you were the expert doesn’t mean you need to be involved in everything. Your job is to lead the team, not necessarily to do the work. Sure, there may be times when you need to step in and get your hands dirty, but that should be the exception, not the rule.
4. Micromanage every task
Micromanagement is a productivity killer. No one wants their boss looking over their shoulder every two minutes asking are we there yet. It shows a lack of trust and that you don’t respect their skills. You need to strike the right balance between given them enough space to do the job themselves but also checking in to see how they are doing and whether or not they need support.
5. Create distance
One of the worst and most common mistakes that I see with new leaders and managers is when they look to create a distance between themselves and the people that work for them. They take the ‘it’s lonely at the top,’ to be a strategy for good leadership rather than a description of how it can sometimes feel to be a leader. When you create distance, you make it difficult for people to feel engaged, and when teams become disengaged results can suffer.
6. Act like a friend instead of a manager
It’s good to be friendly, but you need to make sure that the friendship you have with your team doesn’t impact your judgment or decision making. If you were previously one of the team, this can be a difficult balance to strike, as there is a good chance that you’re already friends with many of them, especially if you have worked together for a while.
It doesn’t mean you should immediately drop people, but you need to be able to delineate between being a friend and being their boss. People will try and take advantage, but you need to be firm, and look to do what’s right and fair, and definitely don’t play favorites.
It’s not easy to make the transition from team member to team leader, but as you start on that journey remember that it’s your job to engage, inspire and support your team. They are the people that are going to do the bulk of the work and your job is to put them in a postion to be successful, and then help them to be successful.
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