Those Annotated 11 Mistakes

Obviously it’s best to be positive about being a manager, but sometimes it’s helpful to think about what not to do and how not to be. You don’t need an authoritarian personality to be a good supervisor, but you do have to keep your wits – and your concentration.  You don’t have to be a blatant schmoozer, but your employees are picking up right away on how glad you are to be there with them, and how comfortable you really are in the role.

This list was given to a client who specifically asked about no-no’s as she headed into her first supervisory job. It’s become my most read Ezine article.  (And of course, it doesn’t only apply to “newbies.” )


New Supervisors: 11 Mistakes to Avoid at Work


Making it about you — conveying that you’re there to get recognized, punch your ticket, show how smart you are, etc.

Wrongly or not, people speculate about the boss’s motives all the time.  If there’s even the slightest hint that you get pleasure, or your sense of worth from “being the boss,” it will be detected in a hot minute, and you will pay a price.  If you convey that you’d rather be somewhere “better,” or think you deserve to be higher on the food chain, you’ll pay a price — people will resent you, talk about you behind your back, generally resist your efforts, and find a way to put you in your place.

Not being curious.  Not constantly asking, in essence: how does what we’re doing connect with and enhance what the organization is trying to accomplish?

Authentic curiosity is clear-eyed  about, and recognizes, what doesn’t work – so that what does work is revealed.  Curiosity is the best stance, ideally and practically, and it’s also a kind of relaxed energy. Humility and the spirit of discovery are culturally contagious, and can positively affect even the most dyed-in-the-wool cynics.

Not communicating expectations of success — an optimistic assurance of support and certainty that everything will be okay.

Free-floating anxiety is part of  any human group — and hangs over even  fairly routine, straightforward processes – let alone those that have any complexity to them at all.  People don’t want to appear inadequate.  Managers should know that and avoid injecting unnecessary stress.  They should emphasize that good, focused effort (not 16-hour days) will accomplish the mission, that there’s time, energy, and support to get things done, and that everything’s going to be OK

Not giving frequent feedback.

Feedback is mother’s milk. People need reassurance more than you probably wish they did.  They need to know you’re right on top of things, and they need you to see that they’re on task, that you like being out of your office, having a look. It also means that if things start to veer off, you’ll notice before too much time passes.  And, of course, they need to be told they’re doing a good job. Praise is good — it just needs to be done skillfully, not gratuitously.  Problems and difficulties need to broached sooner rather than later in a simple, matter-of-fact tone.

Not heading toward a problem — being passive.

This requires some care. You don’t want to jump too soon, inject negativity, or say something before you know you’re right, BUT  that’s different from making sure to have your own early warning antenna in working order so that it helps you be aware ASAP that you may have a problem — and get right on it.  Passivity is almost always penalized.

Not conveying the big picture, especially what a good outcome will look like, and why it’s good.

People generally benefit from being reminded where their efforts fit into the larger scheme of things.  Not only does it help with motivation on the front end, but it helps with innovation and problem solving as the process unfolds.  People see their piece, and the value of what they do, in context. The net result is more emotional effort and extra brainpower invested in overall mission success.

Focusing on one’s own “output” to the detriment of others to whom you’ve delegated work.  (“My work is more important than your work.”)

This is hard these days because line managers are usually saddled with their own work product that requires a substantial time commitment.  Suffice it to say, however, that employees are very tuned-in and quickly detect the amount of time you really have for them, and resent it if you’re not able to give them the attention they need to produce work for you.

Telling people how to do their work, rather than reiterating what they’ve been hired to do.

This is both obvious and harder than it seems.  Some employees do need or want to be told exactly HOW to do something – but then resent it. In general, let people bring their own temperament, rhythm, sense of priorities, etc. into how they accomplish their assignments.  It feels less robotic, de-personalized, and without human valueYes indeed, some folks are extremely passive and exasperating, but if supervisors don’t overreact and keep moving forward with the right mixture of encouragement and candid feedback, most employees feel pulled in.

Making it about you, (revisited) — assuming that opposition, resistance, and criticism are all about being adversarial toward you, and therefore to be either dismissed or attacked.

Get out from under Social Darwinism as soon as possible, even if it does feel like that’s what’s coming toward you from the other end.  Yes, this can be hard.  But stand your ground.  Keep your eye on work performance (your actual job), and you virtually can’t go wrong.  Don’t transform someone else’s struggle with their work into a personal insult directed at you. Therapists call that narcissism.

Not showing fundamental awareness of the need for dignity and respect.

It’s amazing.  Some people are brought up well, “get” this one early, and never come close to violating this one.  But others seem to never get it at all despite multiple lessons.  Most of us do learn, if only from sad experience, that it’s almost always the true reason for most of the blowups at work. People react very emotionally to the slightest hint – especially in front of others – that they are inadequate, “less than”, etc.  (Supervisors have sworn and pleaded to assure me that they NEVER intended to convey that message, but — with a raised eyebrow, a throwaway comment in a meeting, or by not saying “hello” in the hallway — they did.)

Not saying “thank you” enough.

Enough said!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay Fulton

This post really made sense to me; it aggregates a list of suggestions that are practical. And you saved the best for last! Finding things in someone’s behavior, about which you can truly, justifiably, and honestly say thank you is a big card to play in the game of workplace. Even those who respond gruffly, notice that you saw the praiseworthy behavior. An honest “thank you” might dramatically improve the tone of workplace communication, and especially if you’re listening carefully to what comes back.


Hi Jay-

I think you’re my first “reply” that came through Facebook. As you may have noticed, I post in surges, and this one comes from awhile back.
I’m always struck by which tidbit of experience strikes a chord. As I’ve always said – from the time I started doing this work – some managers have a feel for this stuff naturally and don’t ever get into a “ditch” with employees, but all kinds of folks, who aren’t stupid, do make laughably basic mistakes far too often.

Those are the people I was meant to help.

Thanks for commenting, Jay.


Thanks for



I love this post because it gets down and calls a spade a spade. As an executive with a number of line managers in my stead, I was always amazed at how awry these guidelines go — even when one is modeling these behaviors. I actually think many folks need ongoing training and development in these competencies — I’ll be referencing this blog post. Thanks for sharing your ideas.


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