Management Mistakes & Myths: A Deep Dive Into Leadership

We've provided an in-depth look at common (and uncommon) management reporting problems, strategies, and processes.

Ted, Founder and Managing Partner at ClearPoint, has over 25 years of experience working with organizations to improve their performance management and strategy execution processes.

“I am a perfect business leader. I’ve never had a single management issue in business, and I can spot leadership mistakes from a mile away.”

…said no good manager, ever.

First, we applaud you for opening this article. This means you understand that you—and those around you—make mistakes in management, reporting, and leadership. But more importantly, you want to try to tackle those management myths and leadership mistakes head-on, before they create organization-wide issues.

Maybe you feel like strategy execution simply hasn’t worked in your organization, or you’ve been thrust into a whole new role and are responsible for sorting out a broken process. Whatever the case may be, when you’re in a leadership position, you’re under the gun to help your team move through processes smoothly and efficiently—and with the right information and tools, you can certainly do so.

Here’s what you’ll learn in this article:

2 Common Management Myths

Management Myth #1: It’s all about productivity.

Productivity is about getting things done. However, great managers know it is about getting the right things done well. Therefore, being a great strategic manager means making the decision to leave certain projects unfinished or scrap projects altogether if they don’t fit with the focused goals of the organization.

Top managers know how to effectively communicate this information to their teams and know how to deal with the emotions and pushback that can come with saying goodbye to projects or ideas that once showed great promise. Even if the project focuses on something the team is good at, being good at something does not mean it should be pursued—productivity for productivity’s sake alone is inefficient. As the legendary coach John Wooden used to say, “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

Management Myth #2: The leader’s job is to identify what’s “important.”

Take a few minutes to make a list of every project your team is working on right now. Once you’ve completed the list, use a red pen to draw a line through all the projects that are not important.

Even good managers probably won’t be able to cross out any projects from the list. Good managers will have already narrowed down the list to what is “important,” but great managers know they now have to decide where to focus. Every project your team is working on is “important” to someone somewhere somehow, but a great manager will table some “important” projects to focus on the projects vital to the organization’s strategy. They are not afraid to put the other “important” projects on hold.

True Or False: 5 Management Strategies Debunked

We spoke with Tim Muma from the Local Job Network podcast regarding five common thoughts and strategies related to how to fix common management problems. We discussed whether the statements below are true or false. (You can check out the full podcast interview on LocalJobNetwork.com.)

1. “True or false: High employee turnover is a sign of a poor team and manager.”

This is a common myth. Great managers know that employee turnover can be an indicator of that manager, but the number itself doesn’t tell the whole story. Some companies might say, “We don’t have any turnover, so we’re doing great.” But the reason behind the number is far more important than the number itself.

It’s important to determine why your team is staying. Is it because they can’t find another job? Or perhaps they’re simply content collecting a paycheck and don’t want to put the effort into finding a new job? They may just be sticking with the devil they know instead of the one they don’t know. It’s also just as important to find out why team members are leaving. Are they being promoted internally to a different team? Are they getting better jobs at another company? Actually, both of those could be signs of a really great manager; one that cares about hiring great people and developing their talents.

Is your reporting process more difficult than it needs to be? It’s time to track down and conquer the monsters lurking in your organization.

I’d actually prescribe to the idea that a high turnover isn’t a bad thing because it keeps fresh ideas coming in. I recently heard of a really great exercise that a facilitator had a group at a conference do. They were asked to write down every employee’s name on a sheet of paper and then told that they absolutely had to make some cuts to their team. The conference members then organized the names of their employees into two categories: those they would fight for and those they would not.

When the facilitator brought the group back together, he told them: “When you get back to your organization, give the employees you would not fight for a generous severance package and begin looking to hire.” In my opinion, that’s pretty eye-opening and goes to prove this point.

2. “True or false: Your direct report’s paycheck isn’t enough to get their best work.”

Thirty to fifty years ago, this may have been a myth. But in today’s workplace, it’s definitely a reality. Now, I’m not minimizing the importance of a paycheck. But once people have a decent standard of living, they’re looking for other things in their career to be met—a higher purpose for what they’re doing. That’s where we get into a really interesting discussion about how the workplace has changed. It used to be very factory-based, where more output is rewarded and less output is punished. But in the modern workplace, that method doesn’t really work.

Organizations are more like “think tanks,” trying to foster creativity and bring about new ideas.

I’m a big fan of Dan Pink, and he has pulled together great research from economists and social scientists on this subject. He found that people ultimately want to be valued as important team members who make significant contributions to a solution. It’s an innate human desire to want to belong. Ultimately he arrives at three concepts:

  • Autonomy: When an individual feels they have direct control over their lives and work.
  • Mastery: When an individual feels a drive to get better at something.
  • Purpose: When an individual truly wants to be a part of something better than themselves.

People who have these three traits are filled with drive and motivation. They’re doing the work for their own sake and know how that fits into the organization’s goals. Companies with employees like this are likely going to be quite successful.

3. “True or false: Productivity and reaching goals are a manager’s top priorities.”

This is partially true. It’s not solely about productivity, getting things done, or even reaching goals. Good managers know it’s all about getting the right things done well.

Great strategic managers understand and expect that some projects are going to have to be left undone—or even scrapped—if they don’t fit in with the overall goals of the organization. The best managers that know how to handle that process and deal with any pushback.

For example, I’ve heard teams say that they’re really good at a particular project, so they should still be working on it. But just because they’re good with something doesn’t mean it should be pursued or that it is important within the organization. Productivity just for productivity’s sake can be pretty inefficient.

A favorite quote of mine comes from John Wooden, a famous UCLA basketball coach, who once said, “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

Often in our work, we see organizations who use metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure their progress toward their goals. But great managers focus on the big picture, and understand that hitting their targets doesn’t mean anything if they aren’t contributing to overall goals.

4. “True or false: A leader should determine what is important.”

Again, this is a partial myth. Before we move further, let’s do a quick exercise. Take a few minutes and note down every project your team is working on right now. Once that list is complete, use a red pen and draw a line through all of the projects that aren’t important. Yes—this is pretty hard to do! Even good managers struggle with this. But a great manager knows some “important” projects will have to be tabled to allow team members to focus on projects vital to the organization’s strategy.

As a manager, you operate with limited time and a limited budget —but the best managers can maximize those areas to get the best results. They determine what the best short- and long-term priorities are, and they triage their projects from there.

This reminds me of a scene from the movie “The Incredibles.” The antagonist has a plan to make everyone a superhero—and he says, “Everyone can be super! And when everyone’s super, no one will be.” That’s a great point! If everything is important—then nothing is a priority. Great managers can make that distinction.

5. “True or false: Managers need to excel in delegation in order to succeed.”

This is absolutely true. Managers need to understand how to keep their plate clean so they can focus on big picture tasks and actually have time to manage their team.

Good management takes a tremendous amount of time. If managers are doing tasks other people could do, they’re not being organized. They need to understand everyone’s strengths and weaknesses on their team, so they can delegate the correct projects to the right employees.

You also need to show your team that you have confidence in their ability to execute on their projects. This helps your employees to grow and develop. Moreover, managers can and should learn a lot from their employees. If you let them run with your projects, they may be able to show you a better way to accomplish something.

Remember, the best managers are masters of relationships. If you’re too busy or not organized enough, to get to know your team, expect the following to happen:

  • You can miss out on great opportunities for collaboration.
  • You can gain a reputation for being too busy for your team. Many people may not bring up important concerns or issues.
  • You can seem unapproachable or appear to be out of touch. This is one of the worst reputations a leader can have.

If you manage poorly, you’re going to find yourself spending a lot of time putting out fires—and once again, nothing will get done. It’s the manager’s job to plan and organize their division.

Management Reporting Blunders That Irritate Your Boss

1. Including Out-Of-Date Data

You know how tough it can be to gather the data you need from every department in order to build your reports. You end up getting numbers at different times, and there’s always the last-minute guy who sends over an outdated version of his numbers an hour before the meeting. Half your data ends up being good, while another half is now outdated and useless.

Does this tiresome process sound familiar? If so, it’s probably annoying your boss as much as it is you. He or she can see how frazzled and unorganized you are, and what’s more, it is costing the organization extra time and money to gather and analyze the right data. For a more detailed look at this process, check out The Road To Excel Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions (Infographic).

2. Inconsistent Information

If you are in charge of reporting, you’ve been in a situation where some team members submit information and others do not. Or, you send out version one of the report to five people, and you then have to spend an inordinate amount of time piecing all of the changes together. Then you’re finally done when a coworker sends you her newer changes, and you have some of the information in “Monthly-Market-Analysis-v1.xlsx” and data in something called “Monthly-Market-Analysis-v2-TR-edits.xlsx.”

For this blunder, you may be able to blame Excel, but it still falls on you until a new reporting software is put in place.

3. Surprises

“Surprise!” is something your boss may want to hear at her birthday party, but it probably won’t thrill him or her when you’re reviewing reports in a meeting. If you want to avoid the frustration that will surely ensue for your boss, be sure to distribute your slides or data early. The last thing your boss wants to see is a 45% drop in leads for the month in front of all the other executives. As they say in the military, “the only thing worse than bad news is bad news late.”

Consider this from your boss’s perspective. It’s your boss’s job to be prepared, so make it your job to help him or her.

4. “Janky” Formatting

Nothing will leave your boss and co-workers more confused than an unorganized, confusing chart. This is often the result of over-interpretation and analysis of the data you’ve gathered. Instead of trying to jump through hoops to draw conclusions (that may not even be accurate), focus on creating clean templates and charts. For example, make sure your X and Y axis are consistent with how the rest of your company operates. These simple, consistent visualizations will help get everyone in your department on the same page and save you the headache of an angry boss.

5. Lack Of Follow-Up

Effective meetings end with well-communicated action items or documented tasks that need to be completed. It’s the collective to-do list. By delegating these tasks and assigning expectations, meetings become a productive tool instead of a waste of time. If you are tasked with something and put it on the back burner, your boss will be understandably annoyed. This shows that you are apathetic, at best, about your team or organizational goals and aren’t willing to put in a good effort. In our opinion, this is the number one management issue in business that is sure to irritate your boss.

In summary, following up on action items proves to your boss that you take your good intentions seriously. And just because your organization may not review past action items in the next meeting doesn’t mean you should ignore your follow-up tasks.

If you’ve seen any of these management reporting and leadership mistakes in your organization, spend some time reviewing your methodology and try to find the cause. Are the mistakes usually a product of laziness or carelessness, or are they primarily made because of an inadequate reporting process (be it Excel or another reporting software)? If you can’t find a way to eliminate some of these errors, it may be time to give your reporting process a face-lift, starting with the technology.

4 Common Leadership Mistakes Managers Make That Put Them In “Debt”

Manager “debt,” in this sense, is the additional time a manager has to spend down the road dealing with the fallout from a poor solution they created. As a manager, cutting corners may mean you save some time initially, but in reality, you will always end up spending more time in the end working on patches to your ill-designed solution—at the sacrifice of taking your organization to the next level. And the longer you put off paying down the debt, the worse the repayment becomes.

To avoid quick-fix pitfalls, consider these four common mistakes managers make that put them in management debt.

  1. Holding standing meetings with no agenda. It seems like a great idea to have the leadership team get together weekly or monthly, but without a clear purpose, agenda, and some discipline, these meetings can be total time killers. You don’t prepare for the meetings, you don’t discuss important things, and you don’t make decisions. The meetings are useless. An additional problem is that you don’t get together much outside of the meetings because you have already spent some useless time with the team, and you don’t want to continue the bad habits.
  2. Not having any accountability. Does this sound familiar? You have a three-hour meeting that seems pretty productive. You talk about a lot of things related to your organization, and you write a lot of stuff on the whiteboard or flip chart. Then, you end the meeting and the stuff just gets erased or put in a corner. No one follows up, and you don’t review it later. Ultimately, you end up discussing the same thing six months or a year later and wonder why you aren’t making any progress. And the cycle continues. With interest!
  3. Creating a dashboard to nowhere. You know that having a dashboard is important, so your team creates a quick dashboard with “key” measures that you look at regularly. You still struggle with targets and cannot tie the dashboard in a meaningful way to a current strategy that everyone understands. So you talk about the measures, but to what end? Why are these measures important? What are you going to do about them? It’s exhausting, and people lose focus.
  4. Getting into “Excel Hell.” You’ve probably seen the infographic, but remember when it seemed like a good idea to run your scorecard in Excel? Then you started trying to run every department with Excel and ended up linking all of your spreadsheets together. At that point, you had broken links, out-of-date data, and people complaining about bad reports… and it was using up all of your energy. The interest on that debt keeps compounding.

How does this happen? Typically, all of this debt is built up by taking small management shortcuts. For example, “We need a dashboard quickly,” or “We know the key measures, gather them in Excel… OK, what’s next?” Valuable management time and attention are used on viewing dashboards that are out of date, meaningless, inaccurate, and reviewed during regular meetings without any accountability.

If this sounds familiar, it might be time to really start paying down your debt. Think about the long-term management solutions that will help you and your team be more effective. Start with the strategy, and nail it down with clear objectives. Structure your meetings around these objectives and measure things that will tell you if you are making progress in achieving your strategy. Hold people accountable for understanding the measures. Have real discussions about how to improve. Take notes and follow up on actions.

It’s not easy at first, but avoiding these common leadership mistakes managers make (and removing the management debt burden) will liberate your organization. Take the time to pay off the debt, invest in solid techniques to solve for management issues in business, and become debt-free!

Can Software Save Your Management Reporting Process?

At this point, with all the errors, myths, and commonly made mistakes, you may be thinking, “Is my management reporting process doomed?”

We’re happy to say, no—it’s not!

Reporting software can be an effective way to get your team back on track. Below, we’ve outlined five ways software can fix the problems that exist in outdated management reporting processes.

Software can reduce data errors or miscalculations.

If you’re using Excel to keep track of all your data, you already know how easy it is for things to break. And when they do, it can create a lot of issues and takes time to clean up.

Software gives you the ability to set up automated calculations for your reports, which require very little maintenance (if any at all). You enter the raw data once, and the software automatically performs calculations and directs data to where it needs to be. A lot of software applications offer the ability to upload data automatically, which keeps it very secure and reduces the likelihood of human errors.

Software can improve your transparency.

If you aren’t using cloud-based software, it can be much harder for employees to see where and how their efforts might be making a difference. Software keeps everyone in your organization aware of the strategic plan, how they fit into that plan, and how their daily activities contribute to its success. It makes it easier for all internal stakeholders to stay informed and feel like they’re a part of the bigger picture. By giving people permission to see the strategy as it unfolds, they will understand how to better contribute, and thus feel a better connection to the organization.

Software can solve formatting inconsistencies.

If you pull your report together every month or quarter from Excel or PowerPoint, the formatting might become very inconsistent. You can end up wasting valuable time trying to figure out what target or summary report you’re looking at instead of getting down into the analysis and details.

Management reporting systems allow you to save report templates so you can easily generate updated charts each month. The best charts are those that can be digested with ease, and that is only possible when the format is consistent month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter.

With software, you can prevent measure owners from taking formatting into their own hands and making something more complex than the audience needs. (And you can, of course, grant permission to allow for explanations for results.)

Software can create both ownership or accountability.

Another thing a lot of software solutions make possible is the ability to specify owners of measures and projects. When you introduce accountability and ownership into your reporting process, there are a variety of great benefits:

  • Tasks are completed in a more timely fashion.
  • Individuals are more dedicated to a particular measure or project.
  • Important tasks are given the clout they deserve.

Software can fix version control issues.

Version control issues can make meetings a total nightmare. If Joe makes a critical last-minute change to the monthly data and Bob doesn’t know about it, Bob may end up presenting the wrong information to the board.

Reporting software keeps all of your data current and updated, nearly eliminating the risk of a version control issue. Even if Joe updates data at the last minute, Bob will still have the information he needs to present. If you could eliminate the “last-minute dash” to update numbers, wouldn’t you?

Keep In Mind…

It’s pretty clear that reporting software can (and probably will) save your reporting process and keep you from making a number of leadership mistakes. But where do you go from here?

Our advice is to explore every possible avenue for the reporting software ideal for your organization. Here are a few resources to get you on the right path:

Are the “monsters” you work with making management harder than it needs to be?

You can have the cleanest reporting and management processes in the world, but if those involved in reporting are a drag to work with because of certain bad habits or behaviors, you’ll continue to face challenges.

In the free ebook below, we’ve named these “monsters” and explained how you can help them overcome their biggest issues. Download it today to take the next step toward getting your management reporting process on the right track!

Management Mistakes & Myths: A Deep Dive Into Leadership