What Great Bosses Know about 11 Mistakes to Avoid in 2011

Managers, I hope the year 2011 will be your best ever.  May it be the year your employees -- and your supervisors -- declare YOU to be a great boss. To keep you on the path to that success, I've assembled a list of pitfalls for you to avoid. These are missteps I've seen even good bosses make. So read, take heed, then lead.


1. Focusing on power; Neglecting influence.

Flatter organizations, greater collaboration, shifting work teams, shared resources. If that's not the present reality, it's the near future for many workplaces and supervisors. It's a scenario in which the power that comes from your management title isn't as helpful as the influence that grows from your networking and relationship-building. Trust, respect and reciprocity will get more accomplished for you than brute force. In 2011, I plan to more study, teaching and writing about on this topic, because I think the most successful bosses and employees will be those who effectively and ethically build their influence.

2. Hiring in a hurry.

When an improving economy or answered prayers provide you the blessed opportunity to hire a new employee, do it with care. It's not enough to plug holes or relieve overworked staff. Every new hire has to be seen as an opportunity to improve the team. What new skills, experience, or expertise can this person bring? How might you re-imagine your team or your work in ways that take this hire from a simple staff addition to an opportunity for meaningful change?

3. Demanding collaboration while actually obstructing it.

If you want people to work across old boundaries, set aside past habits, and share new ideas and duties, you have to do more than tell them it's expected. You need to look at how you are clarifying roles, evaluating performance, sharing information, and assessing work flow. Otherwise, it's like putting good people into a canoe and asking them to paddle against the current. The rushing waters are going to defeat your exhausted staffers. As a boss, your job isn't just to demand collaboration, it's to identify and remove every barrier to its success.

4. Believing a line like "Employees today should be thankful they have jobs" is a substitute for genuine feedback and motivation.

Employment is better than joblessness, of course, but staffers look to their leaders for more than just a paycheck. They want jobs that give them the chance to do their best work and be respected for it, to learn and grow, to be challenged and to believe their work has meaning. Great bosses understand true motivation, whether the economy is down or up.

5. Neglecting the care and feeding of change.

It's tempting for bosses who've implemented changes to assume the "new normal" will stick. But individuals and organizations have a way of reverting to old processes and priorities unless leaders continuously restate, reward and reinforce that which they want to keep moving forward. Get good at this, because leading change is now an ongoing facet of your life as a leader.

6. Confusing "Being nimble" with "Avoiding planning."

Not every manager is a born planner. Some say they prefer serendipity to structure. They feel too much planning keeps them from being nimble -- able to seize an opportunity on the fly. That sounds good in theory, but having read thousands of feedback reports on managers, I can tell you without question that the best bosses lay out clear plans. Additionally, they know when to set them aside as new options surface. Their employees and their bosses appreciate and applaud that skill.

7. Assuming your "open door" policy provides staff with sufficient access to you.

By all means, let people know your door is open to them, but remember that some people hesitate to approach you. Their reasons vary, but they nonetheless need and deserve contact with you.  It's up to you to make certain it happens. Bosses underestimate the amount of feedback people need and overestimate the amount they provide. My rule of thumb: If you think you're doing a good job of providing feedback -- double it.

8. Letting economic pressures overshadow ethical principles.

I don't mean to suggest you'll lie, cheat or steal to buff up the bottom line. What I mean to suggest is that it takes courage to raise the topic of ethics and standards in meetings that focus on business competition -- or survival.  It takes skill to frame questions about safety, accuracy, service or fairness in ways that help you become a problem identifier and solver rather than an obstructionist. Help your organization avoid ethics traps at all times, but especially in a challenging economy.

9. Neglecting your best people.

Bosses often spend a disproportionate amount of time on underperformers, assuming they need far more attention than star players. But top performers -- and those with the potential to be -- give you far more return on your time investment. This year, commit  to giving them more feedback and more opportunities to learn and grow.

10. Declining to delegate.

I see it time and again: bosses struggle with time management, and at the same time, they choose not to delegate some of their work to others. I can't magically add more minutes in your days in 2011, but I can give you this assessment to help you determine what you can delegate to others. Here's the best news: good delegation helps you focus on priorities while giving people new and often welcome opportunities.

11. Taking care of everyone -- but you.

Being a great boss is a great goal and hard work. Promise me you'll take care of yourself in 2011. I promise to keep encouraging you.

I didn't put that list in any particular order of importance -- but I do think three of them are the most important. Care to guess which three? Compare your answer to mine, which I share in our podcast version of "11 Mistakes to Avoid in 2011."

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

You can download the complete series of these podcasts free on iTunes U.

  • Jill Geisler

    Jill helps news managers learn how to lead her favorite people in the world - journalists. Good journalists, she points out, question authority and resist "spin." It takes exceptional leaders to build trust, along with the systems and culture that grow great journalism.


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