7 management mistakes no one talks about

Thought Leadership on an Execution Planning presented by GetBusinessMomentum.

The Wall Street Journal’s Guide to Management by Alan Murray advises that “leadership and management must go hand in hand. They are not the same thing, but they are necessarily linked, and complementary. Any effort to separate the two is likely to cause more problems than it solves.” I could not agree more. Gino Wickman boils the distinctions between leadership and management down to four core points

  1. The leader works on the business; the manager works in the business.
  2. The leader gives clear direction for people to follow; the manager sets expectations for people work under.
  3. The leader creates opportunities, openings for people, through new ideas; the manager enhances and carries out the communications people need to function well.
  4. Leadership is a much more about thinking, while management is much more about doing.

Here are seven top mistakes of management I’ve observed in my work helping senior executive teams of small- to mid-sized businesses implement EOS:

1. Setting expectations poorly. A member of one of the executive teams I work with complains, “One of my department’s managers again did not come through this quarter. His results were abysmal. When I confronted him, I got this puzzled response saying that he didn’t know that I wanted him to do this or that.” A classic case of poor (or nonexistent) expectation setting between a manager and an employee.

Here is the fix: Pay disproportionate attention to clearly, meticulously and precisely setting and communicating your expectations to the people you manage — always. You can never overdo it. In this particular case, the tool our EOS companies use to set these expectations is the “Quarterly Rocks.” They are the three to seven of the most important goals or priorities that must get done by the end of the next 90-day cycle. For expectation-setting purposes, the key is making them specific so everybody knows exactly what needs to be done.

2. Setting half-expectations. Have you ever had a conversation with one of your direct reports who did not deliver what you expected? You worked hard to set and communicate your expectations clearly. You even verified that they understood them precisely. And yet, when they were not fulfilled, you heard the following explanation from your direct report: “But I needed you to get me this and that, and you never did. How was I supposed to fulfill my obligation when you didn’t?” At that point, you may have replied out loud or perhaps just in your head: “How was I supposed to know that? You never said anything.”

Here is the fix: Expectations are always a two-way street. Being explicit and clear about your expectations is not enough. It’s only half of the solution. As a great manager, you must ensure that the other half — your direct reports’ expectations of you, their manager — is equally explicit and clear. Most importantly, it’s always your job as a manager to do this.

3. Believing the communication got across. Have you ever been 100% certain that you and one of your direct reports agreed on something clearly, completely, fully — only to discover later that you were not just slightly off, but actually miles apart between what you thought your agreement was, and what the other thought? One of my most favorite quotes of all times comes from George Bernard Shaw: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Here is a fix: Go to extreme lengths to confirm that you and your report are 100% on the same page. One method, known as echoing, consists of saying to the other, at the end of each topic, “Here is what I heard you say.” You then follow with a summary, working hard on using different words than before. You can use this in reverse. At the end of each topic, you ask “Can you please tell me what you heard me say?” Then listen carefully.

Brief Addendum: This type of failure occurs not just in management, but in any human endeavor that involves communications. One of my most brilliant clients, a very successful business owner, leader and manager, called me a couple of days after I conducted a half-day workshop with his managers. The workshop focused exactly on the best practices for leadership and management. He opened his phone call with: “I should have listened to you. Yesterday I concluded a business negotiation. I just realized I left over $50k on the table by failing to ask that simple question you taught us to ask. So easy to live in that illusion about communication!”

4. One-way communications. During a rather emotional issue-solving section of a session I was facilitating for a client, one of the executive managers lashed at the CEO. He complained that in most of his communications, especially in one-on-ones, the CEO “gets on the soapbox and talks and talks, and nobody else can get a word in.” The CEO was astonished: He thought he was enhancing the communications by being overly explicit, clear, detailed and comprehensive.

Here is the fix: Make sure that communication is not only a two-way street, but also that the wide side of the street is the opposite side. That is, most of the communication comes at you, and not from you. One way to accomplish this is to watch carefully the “question-to-statement” ratio. Make sure to spend only 20% of the time speaking, and 80% of the time listening. Try doing this by avoiding statements, and replacing them with questions. Then shut up, and listen to your reports’ answers.

5. Right meeting pulse. I recently asked a group of executive managers how often they meet with the teams they manage. The answers ranged from “every day, ‘cause I need to keep a close eye on everything” to “once a month, ‘cause too many meetings hurt our productivity.” Before we continue, how often do you meet with the team you manage? Turns out that there is such a thing as too often, as well as too seldom. When we help our clients implement EOS, we install a practice that we’ve proven in thousands of EOS companies, to be the absolute perfect balance.

Here is the fix: That perfect balance is the “Weekly Pulse Meeting.” It does not smother your reports by breathing down their necks every single day. But rather, it keeps the team connected enough to foster peer pressure, smoke out issues and resolve them effectively. To create and maintain that pulse, our EOS companies implement this discipline from the get-go.

6. Delayed feedback. Yearly reviews are a common practice in many organizations. That’s great — except that waiting for up to 12 months to give someone a piece of feedback is an awfully long time. If the feedback is on a great action, we just missed a great opportunity to reinforce that result and get more of the same. If the feedback is on a not-so-great thing or a mistake, we just missed the opportunity to correct it and avoid getting another 12 months worth of the same not-so-greatness.

Here is the fix: On specific actions, give your direct reports immediate feedback. The sooner, the better. Often, the same or next day is exactly what you want to do. Go out of your way to do it while all the details of the event or action or accomplishment or mistake are still fresh in memory. The more time you let lapse, the weaker the impact.

7. Public versus private. Speaking of feedback, I was recently doing a regular check-in call with one of my client CEOs. Half way into our conversation, she said, “One of my executive management team members truly screwed up on this one item. In the spirit of openness and honesty, I decided I will critique it in our next weekly team meeting, so everybody can learn.” My advice surprised her. I said, “If you do it this way, you’ll create more damage than good. Do it privately.” Later that week, she called back and shared that she followed my advice, and the outcome was very positive.

Here is the rule: Always praise in public, always criticize in private, and never switch the two. Why? While holding people accountable for their actions is important, what you don’t want to do is to damage their prestige among their peers. That prestige will be hard to rebuild, and you may lose that team member for good. That’s the potential damage I spoke with my client about, and she agreed. At the same time, you always want to help each and every one of your team members to build that prestige. That’s why you must praise in public.

Which of the seven mistakes above are you making right now, in your current management role? Which one do you commit to work on fixing this year? What is the concrete plan, the specific steps you’re committing to take to fix it?

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