Management can be the hardest part of any job—yet it’s key to career growth. These 10 truths will help you thrive and rise among the ranks unscathed.

Ten Management Mistakes to Avoid

Management can be the hardest part of any job—yet it’s key to career growth. These 10 truths will help you thrive and rise among the ranks unscathed.

Technical mistakes typically involve a system, such as a Microsoft BackOffice implementation. In contrast, management mistakes involve people. Most MCPs ultimately master the technical dimensions of their job and enjoy a declining propensity for making mistakes. But it’s safe to say that few MCPs ever master management. I can say this because few people anywhere ever master management. This weak link—management—may ultimately provide the greatest challenges for you as your career continues forward.

Survival of the Fittest

Here’s how it’s been explained to me. The cream of the MCP crop rises to the top, correct? So, first, you have to go out and get the work, which could mean you get the right job or you build a portfolio of clients as an MCP consultant. Next, you have to do the work, something most MCPs do well—completing technical tasks. Finally, you have to manage the work. Many MCPs never get to this last stage, resulting in a career plateau of sorts. (My December 1998 column discussed these three stages in greater detail.)

If you can get a job and do the work, you’re likely to make your way up to the lofty MCP salary averages reported annually in this magazine—$60K to $70K. But, if you’ve got the aptitude and skills for managing, you’re a candidate to move forward as a senior project manager or CIO, otherwise known as holder of many stock options. These are the MCPs who make $80K to $150K and pull up the MCP Magazine salary averages. Remember that for every MCP making $40,000 (a common junior-level salary in Seattle), some MCP somewhere is making $80K or higher, resulting in the “average” MCP salary levels I just mentioned. It’s mathematical.

So, management can lead you from rags to riches, but at the same time it’s an error-prone process. With many mistakes comfortably behind me, allow me to don the rose-colored glasses and present my 10 common management mistakes to avoid.

1. Hire too early.

Some hires are made in haste so that a seat doesn’t get cold. Such hires are usually mistakes. I’ve also seen positions filled just because the budget existed to fill them. Not a lot of meaningful consideration was given to how the (technically well-qualified) candidate would fit into the organization and its culture.

2. Hire too late.

Many organizations hire once the work arrives. In the MCP consulting field, this means you’ve hired too late. Those wonderful slow times (also known as “dips”) present your best hiring opportunities. During dips you have time to interview several candidates as many times as you feel necessary. But hiring in a dip requires bravery in that you, the hiring manager, must be confident that another mountain of work is right around the corner.

3. Pay too little.

Although you may feel organizational pressures to hire on the cheap, such a strategy will result in lost sleep. Skilled MCPs need to be paid at prevailing market compensation levels so that your workforce won’t simply use you to prepare for the next job. You could, in effect, be training your competition and paying for your employees’ MCP certifications so the next employers don’t have to. It’s better to pay the market rate and enjoy a stable workforce. In the MCP technical world, losing a knowledge worker is the loss of a key asset. Are such losses really worth the $5,000 or so that you’ll save by underpaying an employee? No.

4. Undercommunicate.

MCPs are a technical lot and not always the best communicators. A key management mistake is not to answer your employees’ voice mail or e-mail messages. I’ve seen it before, and it’s a mistake. In fact, it’s better to overcommunicate. I know that my employees must tire of my late-night calls to their homes, but that’s often the only time I have a chance to return their calls and/or when my best ideas hit me. Such late-night calls are made in the spirit of overcommunication.

5. Fire too late.

Time to address the negative side of management. Bummer. Firing clearly means a mistake has been made. Most likely, a mismatch has occurred. This critical mistake is typically compounded further by not addressing it early just because it’s unpleasant. So you often see organizations with unwelcome guests on the payroll until, finally, the termination is made. Terminating an employee earlier rather than later also helps the employee. By firing, you may help this individual find that perfect job that might otherwise have gone undetected.

I advise you to seek the counsel of a qualified HR director or labor lawyer when undertaking a termination. Various state laws speak very clearly of how one may and may not be terminated. Be careful.

6. Take the low road—hold grudges.

Yes, it’s human nature to get even, but it’s also a definite management mistake. Successful managers don’t hold grudges. They take the high road. So, how do you avoid this mistake? Here I suggest you align yourself with a mentor who can not only serve as a reality filter for you but also offer unbiased and unemotional advice when necessary. I most often use my attorney brothers (Gregg and Jim) in this role.

7. Bring your resentments to work.

How is it that some people are natural leaders and others never get it? Are the successful managers among us just luckier? Not even. It has been my experience that those at the top haven’t been exempted from life’s bumps and bruises. Far from it. They’ve most likely confronted and conquered every single curve and twist that life’s thrown their way. And, while these leaders aren’t devoid of resentments and frustrations, somehow they’ve dealt with them or at least left such flotsam at the door.

The point is, most leaders that you respect have probably made every mistake under the sun along the way. But somehow they didn’t let it get them down. It’s another definition of success.

8. Talk outside of school.

The old saying, “Loose lips sink ships,” certainly applies to management. Nothing is more bothersome than being a party to inappropriate information. It’s bad management to share confidential information with the wrong people. It’ll come back to get you. As a leader, you’re often entrusted with private information. It’s one trust relationship that you won’t want to break.

9. Show your lack of leadership.

Not stepping up to the table to demonstrate leadership and decision making is a clear management mistake. I’ve done it myself. Most of us want to be liked by our coworkers and our subordinates. To avoid unpopular decisions, we’ll often try and reach a consensus on darn near anything. Such a practice may not work in the MCP’s fast-paced world. There just isn’t enough time to have everyone weigh in with a vote. It’s the BackOffice out there, not Congress. Seriously, there’s nothing more frustrating for an employee than having a manager who can’t make decisions. And, although a manager isn’t always a leader, it’s critical to avoid the managerial mistake of lacking leadership.

10. Never ask for help.

Too headstrong and afraid to ask for help? That’s my last managerial mistake. Smart leaders have their advisors. Even smarter leaders call their advisors early and often. In short, use the resources available at your disposal. I recently availed myself of the service of our parent company’s HR director to help me resolve a difficult peer-to-peer situation. It’s an area in which I’ve historically demonstrated personal weaknesses. But now, older and wiser, I sought out help in a sticky situation, with the outcome being a win-win for all involved.

Additional Information
To keep your management skills current, be sure to bookmark Management General’s SuperSite (www.mgeneral.com/1-lines/98-lines/suprsite.htm). The site contains hundreds of links to some of the most helpful management-related resources on the Web, including associations, magazines, book and video reviews, interviews, and essays.

No Hard Feelings

No matter what you do, sometimes things just don’t work out. Any seasoned leader will tell you this. You’ve avoided the mistakes, hired right, paid well, and something still goes critically awry. Well, that’s just the way it goes sometimes, my friend. Try not to take it personally, and you’ll continue to learn and grow as a manager.

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