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Opinion: Learn from these 7 management mistakes

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I  had a boss who provided very little I wanted to learn from or emulate early in my career. He managed with threats and continuous pressure and offered no positive reinforcement.

What I did learn from him, though, was what not to do to correct employee performance; how not to communicate, give instruction, motivate; and how not to listen and respect others.

Managers expect employees to learn from their own mistakes, and they should be too. Yet few managers do learn from their mistakes. Most, in my experience, manage from their own set of entrenched practices or habits, some good and some bad. And I find that all of us as leaders or managers have blind spots – those unhelpful patterns we don’t recognize on our own.

There is wisdom in learning from our mistakes. Here are seven common management mistakes to learn from:

  1. Controlling as a means of demonstrating authority. Don’t arbitrarily take away something that may seem inconsequential to you without first discussing it with the people it affects. Once, I had a client remove the chairs where his delivery crew sat as they waited on the next incoming dispatch. It didn’t create any performance problems; the manager just didn’t like it. His decision, however, created significant discontent with the employees. They enjoyed the team camaraderie, even if it was only for a few minutes between delivery requirements.
  2. Not concentrating on what matters. Call it getting sidetracked by daily to-dos or routine tasks, but the most important tasks can get overlooked when checklists full of everyday work take priority. For example, a group of automotive managers I coached would walk through the customer lobby straightening magazines or operating the popcorn machine and failed to acknowledge or visit with customers.
  3. Undervaluing performance appraisals. After my first 10 years of consulting and training for organizations, I thought I’d seen everything. But I was shocked to learn from a new client CEO that he was emailing his senior managers’ appraisals rather than visiting with them in person. He somehow justified using email communication by the amount of time it saved, although his management team office was just 20 feet away. The signal sent created more damage than the benefit from the time the emails supposedly saved.
  4. Ambiguous direction. It’s challenging to work without clear direction. Employees need clarity on goals and priorities. I told one CEO-client that he wasn’t communicating the direction and goals enough based on my employee interviews. He said that was impossible because, “We talk all the time.” I had to explain that talking isn’t necessarily clearly communicating goals and priorities. I suggest obsessively sharing when it comes to your goals, priorities and values to eliminate vagueness.
  5. Putting too many irons in the fire. When managers have too many goals, it’s usually because they can’t make the difficult decisions about priorities. Consequently, they ask too much of their team. Say no before pouring the pressure on others.
  6. Not being hard on performance as a way to go easy on people. Managing a difficult employee is challenging. Undoubtedly, it’s kindhearted and caring to be empathetic when employee performance slips. Still, when too much is at stake, and someone fails repeatedly, you may need to stop looking the other way and be blunt instead.
  7. Make the decision but then ask for people’s input. One executive told me that he wanted significant employee input on the company’s initiatives. Still, he controlled which employees were selected and manipulated the process to influence the final input. He thought employees wouldn’t notice, but they did.

Attempting to learn from our mistakes is not easy and can be humbling. First, we must recognize our mistakes, but if we can’t, and if others won’t honestly point them out, we need help. Once we know where to start improving, we should use a process tailored to our personality.

Managers who identify, correct and learn from mistakes will accomplish great goals. Those who don’t try will flounder with people and ultimately with performance.

Consultant, professional speaker and author Mark Holmes is president of Springfield-based Consultant Board Inc. and He can be reached at


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