The Traps New Managers Fall Into

The New Manager Traps

Help, I’m lost. I’ve been a manger for exactly 34 days and I feel like I’m drowning. The biggest issues I have are my time (there’s not enough) and my people (I am now responsible for the lives and livelihoods of 19 people). Any advice? Alan in San Diego, CA

Alan, I feel your pain. When I look back on my early roles as a manager, I remember facing the same issues. You can bring all the business and leadership knowledge available to your new job, but when you’re a first time manager who cares, you can easily get lost in the minutiae and feel overwhelmed with a responsibility for your people.

Let’s tackle these two problems in reverse order.

New Manager Trap #1 – Feeling Responsible For Your Team

Not all new managers face this problem. Many, those who wouldn’t help an old lady across the street, probably have no idea that anyone ever feels responsible for their team. They simply couldn’t care less about the health and welfare of their teammates, subordinates or supervisors. They’re so caught up in themselves, and so busy admiring the title on their business cards, they don’t have time to worry about others.

The other type of new manager is the kind of person (like I was) who brings home the stray cat from the alley and feeds it – feeling great and believing they are doing good.

If I could undo one thing from my early days as a manager, it would be to stop being such a softie.

Stray Cats Are Stray Cats For A Reason

If you’ve ever brought an alley cat home, you know that they basically tear up all your furniture, scratch the hell out of you, and eventually poop everywhere in the house. Caring too much and forgetting what’s important to you – and what’s best for your company – is a major reason that many new managers fail to reach their goals.

This analogy is not meant to say that your subordinates will poop all over the place, but it is meant to illustrate that new managers should keep their priorities straight, especially in the beginning.

You are not responsible for the lives and livelihoods of your charges. Provided they are all legally eligible to work in your state, they are 100% responsible for themselves. As hard as that might sound, it’s important to understand that right away.

Provide the goals, and the tools to reach those goals, then train everyone to use the tools. For the 10-20% who never seem to deliver, be prepared to help them find other employment (i.e., terminate them).

You Are Responsible To Your Team

Your company hired or promoted you not because they wanted someone to provide welfare to their employees, but because they wanted someone to get the most out of that resource known as labor. Your job is to deliver on your goals. In this quest, you will often be required to balance productivity against employee welfare.

Unless you’re managing a sweatshop, your employees are free to leave anytime they choose. Knowing this, you need to feel similarly. That is, you need to be prepared to let someone go when it makes great business sense. Not everyone can be a Delta pilot or a doctor, someone has clean the septic systems for rural America.

Stop feeling like you need to protect your team from the realities of business. You don’t. You should be their support mechanism, not their patsy. There is a difference.

Whenever I hire or promote a first time manager, I like to give them a few weeks to get their feet wet, learn their team’s dynamics, and see how they handle the issue of responsibility. If they seem like the type that would bring home the stray cat, I let them get scratched up pretty bad before I offer any advice in this area.

After three to four weeks, they’re begging for guidance on how they can balance the lives and livelihoods of their subordinates and still meet the company’s objectives. The short answer is that you very often cannot do both. Instead of feeling responsible for your team, you should feel responsible for your goals.

The World Needs Ditch Diggers Too

I often quote the late, great Ted Knight from Caddyshack: “The world needs ditch diggers too, Danny.” And guess what? It does. The world is made up of billions of people doing millions of different jobs, and if you ever feel like you have to keep a poor performer employed because you feel sorry for them, you’re doing a disservice to your company, to yourself and to the poor performer.

Often, losing their current job for poor performance is the best thing that ever happened to them.

New Manager Trap #2 – There’s Never Enough Time

For fear that the answer to this question is already too long, let me just cut to the chase here. I have seen scores of new managers fail because they believed everything needed to be perfect. Everything.

Nothing is ever perfect. I often say that if my workday was 24 hours long and my workweek was 30 days long, I would still need more time to do it right. This is a fact of life for managers. There is never enough time, and there never will be enough time.

There’s a great book called All You Can Do Is All You Can Do, But All You Can Do Is Enough that really details the need to do your best, and to be satisfied with the results. While this book is out of print, you can still buy a used copy on for a few bucks.

When we see new managers who feel that there’s never enough time to do their jobs, they are either striving for perfection or working on those things that are out of their control (or both). Either way, All You Can Do can help you work on the things you can control and forget the things you can’t.

I also often recommend Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s the number one leadership book ranked on our site for a reason. It can absolutely help you work on the important issues, as well as help you focus on your circle of control rather than your circle of concern.

Stop Being A Perfectionist

I am a perfectionist at heart. I often spend too much time at work and not enough time with my kids. I understand this and I’ve come to accept it. However, I also understand that my company, my customers and my subordinates would all still be very well served if I worked only 40 hours each week. I can’t help it.

It’s important to note that I never, ever complain about not having enough hours in the day. I understand that all I can do is all I can do, but all I can do is enough. If it weren’t, I never would have been given the responsibility I have today. Alan, you need to understand this, as well.

In the strive for perfection, be careful if you begin to believe that perfection is the only suitable outcome of every endeavor. More often than not, good enough really is good enough.

(Are you are manager who has a problem or an issue like Alan’s? Leave a reply below or send us an email at the bottom of the About page, and we’ll do our best to give you a response in 48 hours.)