It’s human to make mistakes. And we spend so much time at work that it’s normal to make a few mistakes as part of the job.
However, no one wants to be making mistakes. And the worst ones can be career-limiting.
In this article I’m looking at three small-yet-mighty mistakes you might be making every day at work as well as how to fix them.
Whether you are managing small projects or a team of global experts, I’ve seen managers of all grades make these errors time and time again. And I’ve done it too.
The good news is, they are bad habits that are relatively easy to fix.
Susanne Madsen writes about the three mistakes that managers make in her book, The Power of Project Leadership.
I’ve taken her principles, and extended those out to what I think they mean for managers today. Do you recognize these habits in your own practice?
Mistake #1: Managing tasks over people
How can managing tasks be a management mistake? Surely that’s your job, as a manager?
The management error comes when you focus on managing tasks at the expense of leading people.
People get work done. Teams deliver projects. Step away from the tasks and look at the bigger picture. It’s no good having the most detailed task plan if your team are bored or stressed. Managing people should take up most of your time.
In my experience people who are good at managing projects and tasks are less good at managing people. Perhaps because they don’t enjoy it as much as tweaking a project schedule. Perhaps because they don’t think it is as important.
People have always been important but it’s even more acute now. Unhappy team members leave. Or worse, they stay and are disruptive and share their bad mood with everyone else.
How to fix it
Fix it by mentally allocating time in the day to leadership tasks like:
- Meeting people in person
- Checking in with people on the phone
- Setting goals
- Clarifying the vision and objectives for your projects (over and over again).
To move to this way of thinking we have to ditch the view that leadership and management are different. OK, they are different, but you can’t compartmentalize them in real life. They are only different when you’re reading or studying about them.
In my day-to-day work I don’t ‘switch’ between being a leader and being a manager. I do them both. All the time. Whether I’m leading or managing is not a conscious choice, it’s a function of my job.
Mistake #2: Being reactive
I’m reactive. I deal with emails as they come in. It can be quite a stressful way to work. I’d love to have more time to be proactive but hey, it takes time to get organized enough to be proactive and time is something I don’t have much of.
And I know that attitude is wrong.
When we focus on what’s urgent we stop focusing on what’s important. Urgent things take up brain power that would be better used on other tasks such as getting ahead for next week or planning for that project meeting.
You can be proactive. You can look at what might stop you achieving your goals, deal with those risks and look forward at supporting your team.
Strategic planning cycles force us to do this, but you probably only bother to go into the details of that once a year, or when a new project needs to be prioritized against the existing portfolio.
How to fix it
Think now about the one thing you could do to deal proactively with something you know is going to happen on one of your projects. That could be:
- Reviewing your plans and updating them
- Putting your risk management plans into action
- Contacting your stakeholders to let them know what’s coming up
- Preparing a communications plan
- Organizing a team celebration for when the project is over.
Or anything else that makes you feel calm and collected inside (that doesn’t include wine and chocolate).
Related: How To Prepare For Next Week
Mistake #3: Believing that we have to know it all
I know a lot of things. For example, I knew that envelope-neck baby grows are designed to be taken off downwards as well as over the head – and I’m proud to say I knew that before the revelation did the rounds on the internet a while ago.
But I didn’t know how to fold a nappy in on itself when you throw it away before another mother showed me.
I don’t do either of those things at work, but the point is that you can’t know it all. As a parent or as a manager. There isn’t enough space in your head for everything. Besides, we have the internet and our colleagues and books for the things we don’t know.
The important thing is to know where you can go or who you can ask for the information. Then you have access to knowing it all.
How to fix it
Stop trying to prove that you know how to fix problems and do all the tasks. Use your experts to fill the gaps in your knowledge and accept that they know how to do it far better than you ever will.
These three management mistakes can be career-limiting.
However, it’s often not the mistake itself that causes the problem, but our reaction to it. You do something you’re not proud of. It eats you up inside and you worry about it for a while.
Management mistakes happen to everyone. Practice putting aside how you feel about the mistake and getting on with learning the lesson so you don’t make the same errors again.
People with good interpersonal and leadership skills get promoted. Good project and task managers stay doing what they are good at (and if that’s what you want to do in life, then that’s fine – we need managers like you too!).
Start shifting the way you relate to your team and ditch these unproductive habits.
Read my interview with Susanne Madsen and then check out my review of her book .
This article first appeared at Rebel’s Guide to Project Management