“Mistakes new managers make”
Dale is a 30-something manager who just got promoted to his first management job at a medium-sized telecommunications firm. It’s been a little over a month since he started his new role where he oversees twelve people, and so far he hasn’t held a single staff meeting. “What’s the hurry? We’ll meet when there’s something to talk about,” he says.
His staff thinks there’s plenty to discuss. They want to know his goals for 2001. What he expects from them. What he’ll be like as their new boss. What they’ll do about their biggest customer who’s moaning about last quarter’s poor service and threatening to cancel their contract. What’s stopping Dale from getting into action? The same thing that stops a lot of new managers: he thinks he’s supposed to have all the answers.
“What if someone asks me something I can’t answer?” he says. “I don’t know what we’re going to do yet about our service issues. I know we need to develop new teams and come up with better procedures, but I don’t know how I’ll do that. I don’t want to send the wrong message, so I’d rather not say anything.”
In the meantime, people are making up their own minds about what they should be working on and what kind of boss Dale is. Some have concluded he’s incompetent since he doesn’t seem to be doing anything. The longer he stays quiet, the more he isolates his staff and causes alarm. And as a result, he’s missing out on one the most important roles of a leader: instilling a sense of confidence in his team.
If you have the title of manager, supervisor, director, vice president or CEO, know this: You are not granted supreme knowledge just because you’re in charge. No one has all the answers. And if you think you should, you’re not only sending the wrong message and being an ineffective leader, you’re missing out on a lot of brainpower.
Jack Stack, a president and CEO himself, and author of The Great Game of Business, shares how he learned this lesson early in his career. He worked at the International Harvester plant in Melrose Park, Illinois where he was in charge of getting the steel they needed to build tractors. The truckers were on strike and they couldn’t get steel delivered from the plant in Indiana because snipers were shooting at the trucks.
He didn’t have the faintest idea how to get it past the snipers, he says. So he brought five of his guys together to figure “how were we going to transport two tons of steel from Indiana to Illinois without getting our heads blown off.
“Someone said, ‘School buses. They wouldn’t shoot at school buses, would they?’ Another guy said, ‘It depends who’s driving the buses.’ Someone else said, “They wouldn’t shoot nuns driving school buses.’ That’s exactly what we did: we rented a school bus and dressed guys up as nuns.”
He didn’t come up with the answers. As he points out–they all did.
Asking for help also became a shared learning experience for everyone. He and his staff not only came up with innovative solutions to tough issues, but they learned how to solve problems together.
Good leaders are willing to show their imperfection. It shows their humanness. Even with the title of manager, no one expects perfection. If you think otherwise, you’re sending the message that you have all the answers and that you don’t need anyone else. If that’s the case, what are those people doing there?