Victor got hired in a corporation while he was still studying and he stayed with the company after graduation. He’s young, energetic, ambitious and considered a rising star by his company. It’s been a few years now, in which Victor worked very hard and became one of the best professionals in his area of expertise. Everyone acknowledges his experience and it’s not seldom that colleagues in other departments ask for his advice. So a promotion was just a matter of time. It came naturally and wondered no one. Victor was appointed manager of a team of 10 people and it was the start of a new era for him…
In his book, “The Accidental Manager”, Gary Topchik tells the story of managers who, like Victor, were promoted on account of their technical expertise. Topchick calls them “accidental managers” because, even though they received the promotion as a reward for their contribution to the company, hardly anyone made sure they fully understood what their new role entailed, beyond the salary raise and the status boost. Too often companies are superficial in treating the profound implications such a change in role has both for the manager involved, Victor in our case, for his future team and ultimately for the company. Thus it’s easy for Victor to fall into the trap of believing that his new position is just an “upgrade” on his old one and that nothing much will change in his work. What is he likely to do in this case? He might easily commit one of the 7 deadly sins of “accidental managers”.
1. Keep on doing what he did before
Victor keeps on doing what he knows best – relies on his technical expertise and spends most of his time on tasks and personal objectives instead of developing his team. The result? Victor is overwhelmed by the huge volume of work and his team is de-motivated and frustrated by his apparent lack of involvement; people lack direction and results are slow to come.
2. Becomes dictatorial
Power is like a drug. Victor forgets that he once was in his team’s shoes. He becomes excessively power-driven, barking around orders and showing zero tolerance for opinions other than his own. Soon the tension within the team is unbearable; people are afraid of Victor and wait for the first opportunity to leave the team.
3. Doesn’t say “no”
In his new position Victor tries to befriend everybody and get their approval. It’s next to impossible for him to make decisions which might upset someone. When conflicts appear within the team he fails to mediate them and tends to agree with everybody all the time. It doesn’t take too long before people lose their faith in him and a power void appears within the team, generating internal fights for influence.
4. Doesn’t do what he preaches
Victor is convinced that all a manager needs to do is to point the way and people will follow. He’s not as convinced that a manager is the first who should set an example and take a step in the direction where he is urging his team to go. Consequently, Victor doesn’t always follow his own advice – he asks his colleagues to come in on time while he is frequently late, he asks for honesty and transparency while he isn’t always honest and transparent. The predictable outcome is the quick loss of his team’s respect – Victor’s rules lose their significance – since he doesn’t obey them, why should they?
5. Plays favorites
One of the worst sins of a manager. Victor spends more time with certain people on his team – those whom he likes better or has more confidence in. Some opinions weigh more in his eyes than others. This is the perfect recipe for conflict and envy within the team – instead of helping each other, team members will waste precious time fighting for Victor’s attention. It’s unavoidable that valuable people will be lost.
6. Doesn’t listen
We all enjoy talking about ourselves and often we err by talking too much and listening too little. For a manager this may be an extremely costly mistake. Too busy to make his opinions known, Victor may lose sight of valuable ideas of his team members, which they don’t have room too share, since he is taking up “the stage” all the time. They will all soon learn that it’s pointless to speak to “the boss” and they’ll take refuge in passive behavior, executing and not trying to contribute anymore. Victor, of course, will be unhappy because people lack initiative…
7. Becomes arrogant
Although closely tied to sins 6. and 2., the sin of arrogance deserves a special place on this list. A promotion is a reward for our contribution – food for our self esteem. But to Victor his new position is more than that, it’s a confirmation that he is special, different, better than others. His oversized ego makes him arrogant – blind to his own mistakes, convinced there is little he can learn from his team, from his colleagues or even from competitors or clients. The result? You can easily guess it…
By no means would I want to imply that these 7 sins are the exhaustive list of errors that a manager can do. Nor am I suggesting that only first-time managers might make these mistakes – on the contrary – I found various versions of Victor all throughout organizations, with ever more dire consequences as one climbs the corporate ladder. I might even venture out saying that companies themselves fall prey to some of these sins at a strategic level. Becoming too rigid or too lenient, creating room for power politics, centralizing decisions at the top, repeatedly refusing to listen to input from employees, suppliers, customers or competitors – all these mistakes might end up being a recipe for organizational disaster.
Countless studies have shown that employees join companies and leave their managers. Each of these errors costs companies valuable employees – maybe you too were, at some point in your careers, one of these employees who left their managers. That is why I invite you to see this list as an invitation to reflection and discussion – a case study in what managers should NOT be like. What are the mistakes that you as managers have done? Or that your own managers do? What other “sins” would you add to the list of 7? What can we do to counter these sins in our companies and get to see ever fewer “Victor” in our teams? Do share your thoughts and join me in brainstorming ways to become better managers and build better organizations.