5 mistakes I made as a first-time manager

I’ve recently been developing leadership training and that’s led to some personal reflection on things I’ve done well and those things I’ve done that didn’t go so well.    In particular, I’m reminded of the mistakes I made as a young manager.  And unfortunately, there are plenty of them.

Just to be clear, the mistakes don’t stop at some point when you magically become “experienced.” However, these are things I did that you can hopefully avoid on your journey.

Much of what I’m referencing below came from my experience as a first-time News Director in a television station. However, I think the lessons cross over into most professional fields.

Making promises

Promises are fantastic if you can 100% commit to them. However, situations can always change and things can shift beyond your control. If you made a promise you can’t deliver on, you failed and that can damage your reputation.

Early in my career, I told a longtime employee they’d be with the company for as long as they wanted, so they shouldn’t stress over an upcoming contract negotiation. After that conversation took place, the economic climate changed and our revenue dropped.

The decision was made to let this person go. Yes, the person I told could be with the company for as long as they wanted.

I learned a valuable lesson from that experience and still think about it often. The mistake also appears at the top of this list.

Trying to change things too quickly

I came into a new job with new ideas and quickly wanted to make an impact. However, I should’ve done more listening than talking and slowed my roll.

In most cases, you’re entering an environment with plenty of experienced professionals who know what they’re doing. What message do you send if you try to immediately get them to change their workflows? You tell them what they’ve been doing wasn’t working.

I should’ve listened. I should’ve asked them what they liked about their job. I should’ve asked what challenges they’ve experienced and what they’d like to see improved. I should’ve asked how I could help them be stronger performers.

I learned from that and didn’t make the same mistake twice.

Not trusting my gut when hiring

No manager is going to make 100% perfect hires. It’s not possible. However, I’ve found most of the hiring mistakes I’ve made boil down to me not trusting my gut instinct.

In most cases, something came up in the interview that was a red flag. In other cases, I heard something in a reference call that I decided to look past. Or in some situations, I talked myself into the hire or allowed someone else to persuade me into making the move.

Trust your gut. If it feels like it probably won’t work, it won’t.

Blowing up

We all have a temper and mine can rear itself in certain circumstances. I had one argument early in my career than turned into a knock-down-drag-out yelling fest that could probably have been heard through layers of closed doors. It wasn’t who I wanted to be as a leader, but I allowed my anger to get the best of me. I wasn’t in control of my emotions.

Over time, I’ve learned to better manage my feeling. In almost all circumstances, it’s best that I wait and clam down before addressing the situation. I then try to make a decision about the best way to approach the issue — whether to confront sooner than later understanding your emotion could play a factor or wait until the next day when that emotional feeling is more removed.

Leadership guru Jill Geisler says it best in her book Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know that you can power up or power down depending on the situation. Being in control of my emotions has been key for me.

Focusing too much on “my” team

Early in my career, I took on the philosophy that my team was my priority and the rest of the teams or departments didn’t matter as much. Just take care of the home team…

I think taking care of the home team is important, but I should’ve viewed the home team as the entire team — not just the group that appeared under my name in a budget.

Leadership is about the greater good. In that regard, I was selfish.

If you want to grow and be a better businessperson, understand how all aspects of the business operate and how you can help each succeed. You can have a great offense, but you don’t win the Super Bowl without a strong defense and standout special teams.

What mistakes have you made? I’d love to hear about those mistakes in the comments.

Looking for more management advice? Check out 10 things I’ve learned in 10 years as a News Director.

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