How new managers fail

Avoid rookie mistakes that could turn a dream job into a nightmare.
How new managers fail

After years of long hours, hard work, and making sacrifices for your company, a promotion into management might seem like a dream come true.

But that new title, higher salary, and company perks also come with a greater responsibility, extending beyond individual performance, and suddenly you are faced with accountability for the performance of your entire team. That new responsibility can often be fraught with the risk of failure for first-time managers.

According to Melanie Greene, a chartered occupational psychologist who works as a consultant, trainer, coach, and writer in Oxford, UK, new managers may make critical mistakes if they aren’t ready to transition from their former staff position into management.

“Sometimes problems arise when employees are promoted to management positions because they are good at their jobs and have the technical expertise to excel, but they don’t have any interpersonal skills or experience as a manager,” she said.

If a company promotes its best and brightest but is not willing to provide support and coaching, the new manager might make mistakes that could lead to job failure.

Greene, along with Susan Heathfield, a US-based human resources expert, consultant, and writer, describes mistakes new managers are prone to make and how those mistakes can damage your career, cause botched projects, and lead to team breakdowns.

Going it alone. Sometimes managers put pressure on themselves to carry the load for their team without asking for support, and that can be a big mistake, according to Greene. “It might only take 15 minutes to get the support you need when you are faced with a problem,” she said. “It would be really helpful if you ask for help before that problem leads to failure.”

Playing favourites. When you are promoted to manager, you must make the transition from teammate to leader. That doesn’t mean you can’t maintain friendships with your former colleagues, but you must be careful to avoid showing favouritism toward one or more of them, according to Heathfield. “Any person who is in control over work assignments, promotions, or salaries must be as fair as humanly possible and avoid any perceptions of favouritism,” she said. Playing favourites could cause jealousies amongst your employees who may become cut-throat and fail to work together as a cohesive team.

Failing to build rapport. In this age of technology, our work lives are increasingly busy, and managers can neglect taking the time to build relationships with their teams. You should make sure you are giving your employees positive feedback, motivating them, and learning what’s going on in their lives, according to Greene. Knowing they have a mother with dementia or a child struggling at school makes it easier to manage their performance and provide support if they need help.

“Building rapport with your employees will save you a lot of heartache later when problems do occur, because you know them so well,” she said. “If you’ve been so busy that you haven’t done that, their problems can turn into huge issues for your organisation.”

Micromanaging. When managers are fearful about mistakes happening on their team, they will often micromanage rather than empower their employees to solve problems and succeed. If new managers are too controlling, it can stress out their employees and result in different types of responses, according to Greene. “Some of your employees will become fearful. Others might sulk. And as a sign of ultimate failure, they may leave your organisation,” she said. “People don’t leave jobs; they leave managers.”

Letting problems fester. New managers are prone to letting problems fester because they have no experience dealing with conflict, Heathfield said. “When a difficult problem arises, we have a tendency to turn our backs and hope it goes away, but it won’t,” she said. “Know that if you don’t respond to a negative situation quickly and respond well, it will only get worse.”

Pretending all is well. For many managers, most days will be great. But inevitably, the clouds will roll in, and you must be prepared for stormy weather. When your team is stressed, projects get derailed, or you go over budget, it is a mistake to put your head in the sand and pretend everything is great, according to Greene. Practise self-awareness and learn to recognise signs you are not performing at the top of your game. “Schedule one-on-ones with your boss and your employees, and ask for feedback on your own performance,” Greene said. “If there are things you haven’t done well, and mistakes you have made, just plan to do better next time.”

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at