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Episode 142: 10 Common Management Mistakes (To Stop Doing Now)

by Heather Moulder | Life & Law Podcast

Want to learn how to manage people more effectively? Don’t make these common management mistakes.

Not only will Heather cover the top management mistakes most attorneys make but (even more importantly) she’ll cover how to avoid them and what to do instead. Today’s episode is full of practical advice designed to help you become a better manager and leader of people.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:48] Hello there, everybody. This is Heather Moulder, host of the Life & Law Podcast. Today we are going to talk about some top management mistakes that I see people making all the time, specifically lawyers, since that’s primarily who I coach.

Even if you’re not a lawyer and you’re listening, you’ll get a lot out of this today because these are general human mistakes that are big no-nos when it comes to effective management. Yet, even though they are big no-no’s, they are very common. Again, we’re human beings, right? We make mistakes, and there are things that we get into the habit of, and these habitual things tend to get the best of us.

So let’s dive right into…

Management mistake #1: going it alone, doing it yourself, and not delegating.

I see this all the time. It will save time if I just do it. If I delegate, then it will take longer because I have to explain. Then they’ll take time to do it, and they’ll hand me back the product, and I have to review it, and then I have to revise it and go back to them, and it’s just going to take too long.

The other excuse is, well, I’m just better at it anyway.

Here’s the deal, y’all. It’s never going to change if you don’t start somewhere. If you hoard the work, if you never delegate, how is the other person ever going to get better at it? How are they ever going to get good at it? How is it ever going to happen?

You don’t need to be doing these things. More than likely, when it comes to things we can delegate, they’re probably things we should not be doing. Other people could be doing better over time. Maybe not better initially, but over time they could do it better. And even if they can’t do it better, they can do it well enough. It needs to be done by them because it’s not an effective use of your time.

Don’t just do it yourself.

Yes, it takes more upfront time and investment to delegate, but it is so worth it.

[00:02:54] So worth it. Which leads us into…

Management mistake number two, because these go hand in hand, by the way. Many of these mistakes are interconnected:

Management Mistake #2: focusing on the short term, not the long term.

For example, back to that delegation example, when we don’t want to delegate because it’s just going to take longer, we’re looking at the short term, not the long term.

[00:03:18] Right?

[00:03:19] In the long term, it’s going to save us time and energy. In the short term, it requires a bigger investment, but it is worth it in the long term. So there’s a mindset shift that has to happen in order for you to be an effective manager.

You’ve got to start looking not just at the immediate results and the short term, but at the bigger picture, at the long term and being very intentional about the steps you take for time saving in the future. That may not save you time now, but will later on.

And I would also add this from a management perspective. When we’re talking delegation, one of the things that most people say they want more of, especially in higher level positions, especially in the types of positions we’re talking about, you would be delegating to a fellow attorney. Maybe they’re a lower level attorney, a young attorney, but they’re still an attorney. Maybe they’re a paralegal. They’re very well trained.

How do you think they’re going to feel when they don’t have a lot of autonomy, when they’re not being challenged, when they’re not given an opportunity to grow? One of the complaints I hear a lot is, “I can’t keep good help.”

And there are a lot of reasons, I’ll be honest.

[00:04:35] Sometimes it’s pay oriented. There are different reasons why people leave, but one of them is not being challenged enough, not being given opportunities for growth, not being allowed to work autonomously.

So think about that.

That’s what you’re creating when you’re delegating and letting go, not being solo. And that’s one of the things to think about when considering the bigger picture, not just the short term, immediate result for you or a client. All right, let’s go into mistake number three. These are all kind of interrelated, but…

Management mistake #3 is not having a clear definition for your objective, including the steps or the process involved.

So when managing others, get really thoughtful about the situation.

What is it that I want? What needs to be deliverable? What’s the objective? What’s the end result?

Whether it’s a memo, a draft, or them thinking through some issues and reporting back to you for discussion.

[00:05:59] It very much depends on what you’re talking about. But there is an objective, a goal. Right?

Be really intentional initially about what that is, and then get clear about the steps, the process for reaching that, and who has each step.

This somewhat gets into delegation again and understanding the process, the systems involved in delegating. When you delegate, having a system or process can ensure better work, more consistent results. Partly, we’re thinking about that.

By the way, I have a whole episode from last year on putting systems and processes together and how to do that, and I have an opt-in for that. So I will include in the show notes both the opt-in itself, the framework for putting a good system together, and also the complementary podcast that goes with that. I highly recommend you go listen to that.

Be really clear. This also gets into getting specific about: what do you expect from whomever you are managing, from whomever you’re talking about?

[00:07:20] What’s the deliverable from them? What are their skills and strengths? How might they utilize that to help? Where might they be deficient? What resources would they need? Would it be utilizing somebody else or actual technological resources? Would it be a memo or information they need?

[00:07:47] What do they know? What do they not know? What are their skills, strengths, and weaknesses? How does all of this play into the objective of the end product and their role in it?

Be really clear on that because if you’re not, it’s going to be near impossible for you to do the next thing. So the next common mistake is a communication deficiency.

Management mistake #4: not communicating clearly.

If you haven’t thought through those things, it’s going to be very difficult for you to communicate your objective, the end result, the deliverable for them, and to do it in a way that’s clear to them.

[00:08:39] It can’t just be clear to you. It needs to be clear to them. That also means you need to be willing to take more time. This goes back to looking at the long term, the bigger picture, not just the short term. Not just that you’re pressed for time today.

You need to make time because when you take time to explain all the stuff you’ve thought through, the timeline, the due date, the specifics of what you’re expecting, how to utilize their strengths and skills, what resources they might need, all of that needs to go into that explanation. They’re going to have a clearer picture, and they’re going to give you better work product.

They’re going to exceed expectations, maybe not immediately, but over time they will. You’re training them for the long haul, not just getting them to buy you some time to shuffle papers and work to them for the time being so that they can get something off your desk and have it come back in a few days.

[00:09:50] The point is for them to learn how to do a great job so that over time they can take more off your plate and become a capable member of your team.

One thing about communication to note:

Lawyers are bad about telling people to get stuff done quickly when it’s not necessary. So, think through: What is the deliverable? What is the timing? Be realistic. Make sure you’re giving them enough time and be very clear about that timeframe. Don’t just say, “I need it by the end of the day,” say, “I need it by 05:00 p.m.” End of day is different for everybody.

Give them clear and specific directions on not just what you want, but when you need it, and make sure it’s reasonable. Consider having check-ins with them along the way if it’s a longer-term project.

Next mistake, somewhat related to the points we’ve already made, but different.

Management Mistake #5: you pick the wrong person for the job.

They don’t have the right skills or strengths. Or maybe they’re not quite ready yet.

Make sure when you’re thinking through “who is the best person to delegate to”, who makes the most sense based on skills, strengths, personality.

Also, don’t forget about capacity. Do they have time for this right now, or are they already overburdened? And that’s not according to you but according to them as well. Trust them. If they say no, ask what they’re working on. If you want to help them navigate other people or learn how to do both, but only if it makes sense.

[00:11:34] But don’t do it as a gotcha. Understand, they also have time constraints. They also have pressures from other people.

And another note, when picking people, don’t forget personality. Sometimes, personality is crucial depending on the project at hand.

So, when considering, “Is this the right person?”, think through not just their skills or strengths but also their unique personality and whether it is the right time for them as well. All right, on to number 6.

Management mistake #6: not being available for questions.

Remember, I said not long ago, make sure you’re available for check-ins and stuff. Number one, I highly recommend regular check-ins where you go to them and make sure they don’t have questions and sit down and actually ask, hey, how is this going? I know X, Y, and Z can be difficult. What questions do you have about that? Make them feel like it’s okay to ask questions. They’re not being stupid for it.

[00:12:39] So you want to make sure your approach is correct. Do not expect to hand over the work and then never hear from them until the due date. It’s a recipe for not getting back what you wanted. Tell them you’re available. Tell them you expect struggles, that it’s okay. Tell them you expect them to come to you with questions.

Have open office hours. Create a standing check-in meeting where you ask about their progress, where you ask about their struggles.

Structure it. You can structure this so that they come to you on your time frame, and you’re not getting interrupted, but you’ve left yourself open for questions, open for discussion, so that you get back what it is you actually want. And more.

A note, if you are virtual…

This is absolutely necessary because it’s really hard for people to just walk down the hall. You’re not going to run into each other, and they’re not going to feel comfortable saying, oh, hey, I need to talk to you. That’s a lot easier when you’re in person and you run into one another. It’s a lot harder when you’re virtual.

You don’t feel like you know one another very well. You don’t read each other the same way over the phone and over Zoom as you do in person. It’s just different. So you really want to make sure you get as much structure in on this as is possible if you are primarily or all remote.

[00:14:08] You can create a collaborative environment even if you’re 100% remote, but you’ve got to be proactive about it. This is how to do that, or at least part of how to do that.

Management mistake #7: you try to solve their problems for them and end up taking over.

Look, when they come to you with questions and they’re not sure what to do, do not take over. Do not do what you are naturally inclined to want to do. Sit down and talk through it. Tell them where they might find some answers. Make them think. Ask them tough questions.

Be a teacher.

[00:14:57] Yes, again, this is going to take more time in the moment, but it will help you so much more later on. Do not spoon feed them solutions or take over. Let them analyze more on their own. Help them to solve their own problems instead of giving them the answers.

Management mistake #8: you assume (incorrectly).

Don’t assume, especially when things are turned in late, deadlines are missed, or when the product isn’t up to what you thought it should be. We assume they don’t care. They’re just not cut out for it. That’s rarely the case.

It could be that there was a death in the family that you don’t know about. It could be that they battled the flu. It could be that you didn’t make yourself very available or you weren’t very clear, or both. So they didn’t know what to do and they tried their best, but they weren’t quite sure how to approach you. It could be a lot of things. Don’t assume.

If you assume, you are likely writing them off immediately, and that is a travesty because why have people around you? I mean, if you want to be a solo attorney, by all means, go be solo. But you’re limited. There’s only so much work you can take on.

If you are not going to be solo, you’ve got to learn how to manage. And that means not assuming, going to them to talk it out, finding out what happened, addressing the issue. Be curious, ask questions. Don’t assume, don’t judge. All right.

Management  mistake #9: you don’t ever ask what happened, what’s going on.

So when somebody doesn’t perform the way you expected or wanted, you need to go back and ask, okay, hey, what’s going on? This goes hand in hand with not assuming, but it’s a little different. Not only do you not assume, but you’ve got to go ask the questions.

People who don’t ask and also assume tend to be very passive-aggressive in their management styles, which is never a good thing. That tends to create a very toxic culture, which you don’t want.

[00:17:10] It’s not going to help them. It’s not going to help you. You need to have the conversation and address the big issues when they come up, as they come up, so that you can figure out what’s going on, figure out how best to help them, and also figure out what they are and are not capable of.

But just because they mess up once, twice, or even three times does not necessarily mean they’re not capable. If there’s progression after three times, even though they’re not where you wanted them to be, but they’re getting better, it shows progression.

[00:17:43] So don’t write people off too quickly.

All right, so that was number nine, mistake number ten. And this is also similar, but there’s a difference in it.

Management mistake #10: you don’t give feedback.

Look, people learn through mistakes, but they’re only going to know about it and what could have been done differently if you tell them.

So this is not the previous one, really related to big problems.

[00:18:12] Totally missing a deadline, not getting it done at all, missing the boat on a big issue that they discussed. So how could it not be in there, that kind of thing. But there’s going to be mistakes, little, big, small, whatever along the way. You need to give them feedback on that. They will not get better unless they’re getting that feedback.

[00:18:32] They’re not going to understand it’s a big deal unless you’re giving feedback. Let me be clear about something. Sometimes your feedback is going to be stylistic, something I learned very early in my career. I had different attorneys my first five years that I worked for with very different styles in writing and what they wanted and how they wanted things presented. I had to learn quite the hard way how to write and do things according to each partner’s style.

So some of this stuff is going to be that you may not see it that way, but it is.

And they’re not going to understand that without your feedback. Without your feedback, they’ll never get there. So you want to give feedback on all major projects. You don’t have to give feedback on every single small mistake. But if it’s a mistake you see over and over again and you start to see a theme, even though you would consider it small, I would give the feedback.

And here’s the other thing.

You want to give good feedback, too. This is where we lawyers really mess up the most. People need to hear when they’re doing well. It keeps them motivated, keeps them going.

Especially in the bad times. They don’t need to hear only when they’ve messed up or made mistakes. They need to hear when they’ve done well. The other thing is you want to reinforce that. So you want to give them the good regularly.

Now, this doesn’t mean every project they turn in, if it’s somebody working with you day to day, you don’t need to constantly be giving them feedback. But maybe you have a once-a-month meeting with them or twice a month meeting where you spend 20 minutes going over the big picture things that you remember, and you keep a running total of it so that you can go over with them at once. Find ways to give regular feedback.

Here’s the deal, y’all. The crux of this gets into your mindset, your leadership, your management mindset. Do you care about their development?

You need to. You’re not going to manage well if you don’t care about their growth and development because you need to become an actual teacher to them. You need to care why they’re struggling to help them. It’s on you as their manager.

All right, that is it for today.

Hopefully, you have learned something from these ten common management mistakes and how to rectify each one.

I promise you, if you rectify these, not only will you be a much better manager, but more importantly, you’re going to have a more successful career. You’re going to be able to build a much more successful team, and you’re going to be able to develop a much more successful business. It will give back to you in spades. So it’s really, really worth it to focus on this.

I would suggest even that you start focusing on your management style and upping your game in this area for the remainder of this year. That’s it for this week. Bye for now.