Managers: Don’t Make These 3 Mistakes

Managers, please, do not make three management mistakes:

1. One said “empower” without meaning it.

This hot buzz word of the 1990’s was never really understood by managers. Let’s break it down. “Em” means “to give” and “power” means, um—power. Or authority. Essentially this: The ability and freedom to make and act upon a decision without checking with the boss first.

That’s not allowed very often. BGM (Banished Gorilla Manager) #1 is now on ice because he said “empower” then added, “But before you do anything, run it by me first.”


2. One blamed the team.

Here’s what great managers get: It’s their job to take full and personal accountability for the results of their team. In other words, being a manager is like being a parent (stay with me). Karen and I state in Parenting the QBQ Way something we know some parents will reject.

Your child is a product of your parenting!

We know some moms and dads will nod politely at this all the while thinking, Well, it’s the schools, too. And Hollywood. And my kids’ friends. They all influence my children!

Might be true, but to blame outside factors is not leadership. And to keep it simple, it’s just weak parenting.

And there’s no leadership when managers ask unaccountable questions like, “Why can’t we find better people?” and “When are they gonna get motivated?” Managers who don’t wind up on ice ask The Question Behind the Question (QBQ), “How can I be a better coach?” and “What can I do to improve me?”

And they always embrace this life philosophy: I own the results.

3. One beat his chest in arrogance.

I guess that’s the stereotype of a gorilla, eh? It’s also the image some of us still have of managers. I started in the business world right out of Cornell in 1980 with one of the world’s largest privately held firms. I had 5 managers in 5 years, and I can’t recall one of them ever admitting to a mistake. Has this changed? The reality is, all people make mistakes and it’s the wise, accountable, and well-trained manager who says stuff like:

  • “I was wrong.”
  • “I’m sorry, I blew it.”
  • “I should’ve listened to you.”
  • “I don’t know, what do you think?”

As we write in Outstanding!, the best organizations present humility to the marketplace. And as we write in QBQ!, accountable people know this:

Humility is the cornerstone of leadership.

Managers, want to stay off a floating ice block in the middle of nowhere? Then embrace and live this truth:

Arrogance repels, but a humble spirit is like a magnet, drawing our team to us.

So, whether you’re a grassroots “team lead” with five hourly people or the CEO of thousands, read this message again and commit today to not committing these major mistakes managers make.

It sure beats floating away on your own iceberg.

For discussion:

Have you seen a manager make these mistakes? What other mistakes do managers make and how do they affect the organization and team?

PS Want to be a “cool” manager? Learn how in this post.

(If you are not a subscriber to our QBQ! QuickNotes, sign up here.)


12 Responses

  1. Great post, as always.
    Yes, I’ve seen/worked with those gorillas and regretfully resembled them at times during my years as a manager. Another mistake I’ve seen managers make is when they display a lack of integrity. This comes in the form of telling a ‘white lie’ or conducting themselves in a less than honest manor in front of their direct reports. I once watched a manager order an expensive bottle of wine at the end of dinner and when it was delivered asked the waiter to cork it for him to bring home. I was astounded and never trusted a thing he told me after that. The relationship was fatally damaged. If your people don’t trust you then your role as a manager is finished. Make room on that iceberg.

  2. Yup, I’ve had managers make some of those mistakes. And more!

    Here’s a story that goes along with mistake 2 –

    One manager used to have a technique that would help us with our conversion rate. It was a simple technique but one that was frowned upon by corporate. Yet he encouraged it and displayed the behavior for us.

    When he moved onto a corporate position, he chewed out team member for using the method. Going as far as to say he’d never done it or encouraged it.

    You can imagine what the team felt about this. The level of discouragement and frustration went through the roof.

  3. How do we, the managed, influence change at the top? We are all drowning. The target keeps moving like a flavor of the day but our output remains the same. We all seem to have twelve plates spinning in the air and are making no progress. What makes it the worst is that all the leadership and most of us have gone through 7 Habits, 4 disciplines of execution, FC Leadership Series, Speed of Trust. Some have no accountability while others are held to different standards.

    1. Chris, this is very frustrating, for sure! Maybe they should all now read QBQ! 🙂 Seriously, the best take-away from QBQ! is “I can only change me.” So that’s the best approach for you. Good luck!

      1. John, great response. No matter where we sit in an organization, we can influence others by setting an example by how we lead and treat others including our peers, leaders and subordinates. We may not be able to change others, but we can hope that our actions can influence the culture.

  4. I teach at a middle school in Texas. In my 21 years there I have seen worked for seven principals. Three of them were ex coaches who seemed genuinely concerned with our welfare. Two were of the my way or the highway variety who had a very negative impact on the morale of the teachers. One was just passing through waiting on a job in another city. Of the first six principals the three “good” ones were men the three bad were women. i had almost got to the point that I didn’t believe a female principal could lead our campus.This year the seventh principal arrived on campus, she has been wonderful. When something goes wrong she takes ownership and asks for input on how to deal with it. Needless to say certain other principals didn’t do that. This year has been one of the best years of my career. .

  5. Good post, John. We managers (and parents) must get better at what we do. No question. Sometimes, no matter how well we manage (or parent), sin within the managed (children) gets in the the way. God the Father is the ultimate/absolute perfect manager, leader and parent, yet the majority of Israelites rejected His leadership and parenting as do many others throughout history. Sin is one factor we have to take into account.

  6. Brilliant and fun way to look at this. We can’t do anything about anyone else, but we can all work on us! Thanks for the mental images – life is too short to be stranded on an iceberg of distrust, cynicism and poor productivity

  7. John G.Miller, I knew that you would do it again and again. I mean writing easy practical and factual things happening around us right from home, family, office, public places, conferences.Today I had just changed my mood at my skype to read: Leadership is influence! I do appreciate your observations but I would like to add that managers set the tone and the way an organisation’s culture is built from how we talk, communicate, and give feedback to our peers. Some of us managers create a small prison in our work places to the extent that even if a pin dropped you could hear it. Why? Because when boss or manager is in the office every one is dead silent and cringing inside but when the boss is away then it even ceases to be a collection of weaver birds enjoying their freedom. I must thank you so much for all this ideas.

    John, you have added immense value to me professionally and I know I will never be the same again. Cheers. Mike

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