How Good Bosses are Likely to Mess Up

Managers fess up to their most common mistakes.

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Michael Wade
The bosses' discussion continues from last week:

“Where am I likely to mess up? That’s easy. Taking on too much. You know that old line about how you should never say 'no' to new projects or opportunities? It’s wrong. One of the most important skills you’ll ever learn is the ability to say 'no,' even to yourself. You can’t do it all, and if you and your staff are really stretched, the odds are you won’t do it well.”

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“Amen to that. You have to focus. You are prioritizing daily because things keep coming up, but that means you have to zero in and keep pushing on the key items. If you fail to focus, your energy will be eaten up by a swarm of minor and even important tasks. It’s easy to ignore the minor stuff, but you also have to choose to neglect important things.”

“In the past, my biggest mistake resembled one I’ve seen employees make: Waiting too long to ask for help. It’s as if you’ve wandered into the woods and you think you know your way out and then it hits you: You’re lost. You know nothing about this territory. Let’s just say I’ve learned how to call our HR department and our lawyer before losing sight of the road.”

“My biggest mistakes have first and last names. I’ve kept some people on board who should have been moved into other jobs or fired. I was the last person to know what a poor fit they were for their jobs and yes, I bobbed and weaved for months when I should have moved quickly. By the time I acted, my team had lost valuable productivity and I’d lost some credibility. You have to impose deadlines on yourself or you’ll dodge unpleasant but necessary decisions.”

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“I still cringe when recalling how often a fear of micromanagement has kept me from delving into the details. Do you want to look over shoulders? No, but you have to tweak some things in order to paint a clearer picture of the desired level of performance.”

“How do you know when to tweak?”

“I haven’t found a magic formula. There is a sixth sense obtained through experience. My biggest blunders have arisen when I have not paid attention to my intuition. If you sense things are fine, that doesn’t mean they are, but if you sense something is wrong, most of the time that warning signal is justified.”

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“So, I hear you saying that good bosses need to say 'no,' focus, seek early assistance, deal with problem employees, get into some details, and pay attention to their intuition. Is there anything else?”

“There’s an entire warehouse of advice, but I’ll just add this: Beware of emphasizing results rather than the efforts that produce the results. If you don’t polish the ingredients of success, you’ll achieve inconsistent results. Most of us hate anything resembling bureaucracy, but you’ve got to be systematic. And the better the system, the less you have to micromanage.”

“You have to study the job?”

“And yourself.”

Michael Wade writes, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.