As a Manager, Avoid these Pitfalls and Win!

posted by Dilip on June 13, 2018

My client pool includes managers at all levels, including CEOs. Throughout my career coaching I’ve seen examples of what managers need to do and to avoid. But during the last few weeks I ran into some egregious client situations that made me realize that very few managers really understand their true responsibilities and what they must do to be effective in their roles.

This is especially true of the managers, who just got promoted from their Individual Contributor (IC) roles because even fewer realize that as the first-level manager they are expected to play a different role in their new job, which is a break from their historical evolution as an IC. In your higher IC role your progression trajectory requires that you do what you did in the previous role with greater impact, increasing the scope of your reach, and to show greater technical expertise. Many first-level managers are unable to break that trajectory when their role changes.

Why is that?

As soon as you become a first-level manager there is a discontinuity in this evolution. You are no longer measured by the depth of your technical skills alone, but by how you are able to marshal that skill to get your team to produce an outcome that shows your leadership as a technical manager and that you are able to marshal your resources—especially your team—to create a productive outcome. So, in this new manager role your expectations shift from merely creating a technical outcome to leading a team of experts to organize resources to efficiently create something of value for the company.


So, as a new manager—and beyond as you grow into more senior roles—you are required to exploit your technical expertise, but now by channeling that to drive teams that work for you to deliver outcomes by managing resources under your responsibility. So, although you are required to be technically skilled in your area of work you are now expected to apply that skill by leading others more than doing that work yourself. Most managers miss this critical aspect of their responsibility and go on to become micromanagers, driving their teams insane! They further compound their misery by working twice as hard because with this mindset they have to!

One way to avoid this micromanagement pitfall is to understand clearly what is technical work and what is management work. Management work falls into its four constituent functions: Leading, Planning, Organizing, and Setting up Controls. Each of these functions, in turn, has its activities that are subsumed under these functions. For example, the Leading function has Communicating, Decision-making, Motivating, Recruiting, and Developing people as activities subsumed under it. Similarly, the other three functions have their own activities that belong to them.

When a manager performs their work corresponding to these functions/activities they are engaged in management work. Everything outside that is technical work. Doing the technical work that only you can do and delegating the rest to the team under you allows you to devote your time to doing the management work that you must do. Knowing what the management work is and then doing the management work that ONLY you can do allows you to be an effective manager and a leader.

Now that we have defined this management rubric for success here are some tips that can help you become an effective manger, regardless of what level of manger you are, including the CEO.

  1. Learn what is management work and know the work that only you can do to avoid becoming a micromanager. A manager at each level must do some technical work, but the time spent on this work in lieu of doing management work becomes linearly less and less as your management responsibilities go up with higher titles.
  2. Because undone management work rarely presents imminent threat to your group’s existence (late performance reviews, a delayed hire, a hurried communication that confuses people) the default mode for most managers is to avoid/defer it. Whereas, undone technical work screams out for attention (a failed test, a customer complaint, stopped production line). Thus technical work preempts management work and there in lies the problem. Undone management work piles up as sins (management debt) that become less noisome than undone technical work (technical debt).
  3. One of the major areas where a manger’s time goes is in people management. This is often because errant team members preempt most of a manager’s time, energy, and attention. Managers should focus their time on their stars and super stars to make them even better at what they do. Instead, much of a manager’s time and energy are expended in dealing with these errant team members and getting them to adhere to norms. Even then at best, they go on to deliver mediocre outcomes, and yet managers continue to waste their valuable management time disabusing their errant ways; a losing proposition. So, if errant team members do not deliver after your earnest intervention, work them out at the earlier opportunity.
  4. If your boss or skip-level boss foists a team member on you for political (or other) reasons, make sure that the new member is performing to your standards and is working well within the team’s norms. Otherwise, elevate your concerns immediately and bring HR into this process. Political interventions with team members that disrupt team norms end up with a high penalty to the team and to the manager who accepted this “favor” from their higher-ups. In two recent cases where such an errant member not only disrupted a well-functioning team of an otherwise competent manager, but also got the managers (my clients) into trouble by preemptively lodging complaints about my clients’ management styles. In both cases the errant member was saved and the managers terminated!
  5. Keep a running tally of your technical and management debt and discuss this periodically with your boss and make them aware of the penalty you are both paying because of this debt. Show its trend in both cases and reprioritize your work (management Vs. technical) so that you liquidate both debts in an orderly way.
  6. Keeping up with technology (those managers in high-tech companies) must be a priority. So, keep up-to-date with emerging technologies in your areas of work and sign up for courses available through on-line resources (LinkedIn’s, Udemy, Udacity, MOOCs). Get yourself certified in critical areas of emerging technologies to keep your résumé current.
  7. Develop your team members and identify those who can be groomed to take on your role. Remember, you cannot be promoted unless you have your second-in-command ready when a promotion opens up for you. I have seen many instances where a worthy manager was passed over for a lesser candidate for a promotion because the latter had a better succession plan.
  8. Do not assume your next promotion because you have done a good job as a manager (at any level). For you to be seen as promotion-worthy make sure you identify ways to improve your work group by making your boss look good to their higher up. Doing good work at your current level is mere table stakes.
  9. As you move up in management ranks politics plays a major role in how you are viewed as a good team player. Do not underestimate the power of the right political play in positioning yourself for promotion. There is nothing wrong in knowing and understanding the art of organizational politics; its lifeblood.
  10. If you do not see growth in your current management role do now wait for things to change. There are fewer and fewer management roles in any job market. So, once you see a decline in your career momentum, do not wait to further compromise your résumé to get out. Make a change while things are going well before it is too late.

Management roles require even greater emphasis on managing your own career. Many managers lose sight of this simple reality. Stay vigilant and put your management career on a growth path with these tips.

Good luck!