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The Most Common Mistake Managers Make (and How to Fix It)

July 6, 2022

My Team and I coach and mentor a wide variety of business and organisational leaders. Some are entrepreneurs who have created successful seven or eight-figure businesses, whom we coach as part of our business coaching and business mentoring program. Others are executives in larger corporates or government organisations for whom we provide executive coaching and executive mentoring.

Regardless of the leadership demographic (business owner or executive) we all agree that there is one mistake that most managers make. It is not micromanaging, nor bullying, nor even poor execution.

In fact, it is not really about anything they do. It’s about what they don’t do, or don’t do enough.

The biggest mistake managers make is failing to engage and develop their individual direct reports. Perhaps the majority of managers we have worked with have initially failed to make the time for regular interfacing with their team members, individually. They fail to get a real grasp on how to develop their direct reports. How to motivate them. How to enable and fast-track the increased capability of their direct reports.

Why is this? There are several reasons (rather excuses) but the most common is managers citing a ‘lack of time.’ Many if not most managers regard the operational and strategic imperatives of their role as the real priorities.  The ‘management stuff ‘ is what they may get around to ‘if I ever get enough time.’ Which of course in their minds, they rarely do.

This shows a real lack of ability of managers to prioritise around what is arguably the most important aspect of their role – to lead and develop their people. If a manager’s job is ‘to get things done through other people,’ then engaging and developing your team must be the highest priority as a manager. Even more than much of the ‘operational stuff.’

If you are a manager, ask yourself ‘how well do I really engage with, develop and grow all of my direct reports?’ Not just the ‘stars’ or the ones I like, but all direct reports.

Then ask yourself ‘why isn’t developing my staff my highest priority?’ Staff engagement and development is perhaps the ultimate ‘Quadrant 2’ activity for managers in Covey’s Time Management Matrix.

What would happen if it did become your highest priority as a leader? How would the people that report to you grow, develop and become more effective (thereby increasing your own overall team and leadership effectiveness?)

If you need to improve your ability to develop and grow your individual team members, start with the following steps:

  • Put regular catch ups with each of your team members as a mandatory calendar entry each week
  • Rate your team members individually on the Skill/Will Matrix- covered in one of our previous blogs  This is where you rate your individual reports out of ten for their skill to do their role, as well as their current willingness or motivation to do it. Where you rate them, as per the matrix, determines what they most need from you as their manager to develop them.
    • In short- low skill, low will – you must micromanage them
    • Low skill, high will – you must enable/fast track their capability development
    • High skill/low will – you must find out what intrinsically motivates that individual and leverage off that
    • High skill/high will – you must delegate, enable and empower these people to do more of their role without your intervention.
  • Repeat step 2 every six months and when new team members arrive.

Taking the time to develop your individual team members takes motivation and discipline. Yet it will be the most rewarding thing you can do as a manager and will go some way to differentiating you from 90% of other managers.

Adam Wilson Small
Adam Wilson

Owner & Mentor

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