leadership traps

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CONGRATULATIONS – you’re a manager now.

If you secretly feel like the cat who finally caught the mouse and are not quite sure how to avoid common management leadership traps, you’re not alone. Today’s guest, HR pro Barbara Mitchell has years of experience helping new and seasoned managers side-step leadership traps and can help you maximize your impact and influence as well as build trust and and high performance teams.

What You’ll Learn About Leadership Traps (highlights & transcript):

  • Leadership Traps to AvoidThe 2 biggest challenges new managers face. [2:44]
  • Why thinking your positional power means you have all the answers is a huge leadership trap. [3:57]
  • The 3 management behaviors that are leadership traps. [3:59]
  • How employee engagement starts well before you hire someone. [6:45]
  • Why onboarding employees is not solely an HR department responsibility. [8:10]
  • What to do when you feel your job is threatened by a super star who reports to you. [10:16]
  • An easy way to side-step the leadership trap inherent in managing remote employees. [17:20]
  • And much more.



Hanna Hasl-Kelchner: [00:00:00] Hey, congratulations, you’re a new manager now! Now, if you secretly feel like the cat who finally caught the mouse that are not quite sure what to do next (a) you’re not alone, (b) you’re in the right place because whether you’re a new manager or a seasoned pro, my next guest can help you maximize your impact and influence as well as build trust and teams. She’s the co-author of The Manager’s Answer Book.


Announcer: [00:00:30] This is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner giving you the inside scoop on how to ignite more business success by doing the right things in the right way.


Hanna: [00:00:47] Welcome to Business Confidential Now. I’m your host, Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, and today I am delighted to welcome back to the show Ms. Barbara Mitchell, an acclaimed expert in human resources management and an award-winning co-author of The Manager’s Answer Book: Powerful Tools to Maximize Your Impact and Influence, Build Trust and Teams and Respond to Challenges. It’s a 2020 winner of the prestigious Next Generation Indie Book Award, which is just fabulous. Barbara is enthusiastic about helping organizations find higher engage and retain the best talent available. That’s why she founded the Mitchell Group management consulting practice that helps clients with people and talent management issues. Prior to her consulting, she spent much of her business career with Marriott International. Now, you might already be familiar with some of her other work back in 2012. Together with Cornelia Gamlem, she wrote The Big Book of H.R. because managing people is the most challenging part of any business leaders’ day. Now, this dynamic writing duo has since drilled down even further with their latest timeless release, The Managers Answer Book. And like you, I can’t wait to get some answers because we got a ton of questions, but never enough answers. So let’s have her join us now. Welcome to Business Confidential Now, Barbara.


Barbara Mitchell: [00:02:12] Thank you. I’m delighted to be back with you.


Hanna: [00:02:16] So good to hear your voice. You know, managing people, as you well know, is a huge responsibility. And quite frankly, it’s a privilege because human resources are one of the few business assets that can actually grow and appreciate over time if it’s managed properly. So I’m really curious about some of the challenges new managers may encounter and what one or two skills they could develop quickly so that they don’t screw things up.




Barbara: [00:02:44] One of the first challenges I think many managers face is that they’re not prepared for becoming a manager. Many organizations say today you’re a great individual contributor and we now want you to manage your function. And so tomorrow you may be managing the people that yesterday were your colleagues with and suddenly your relationship has changed. You’re now responsible for their production, for their performance reviews and for just keeping the organization operational. And maybe you don’t have the skills that you need. And also, these people were your friends. You went to lunch with them yesterday and today you need to be the manager. That’s a tough thing for someone who is new to management.


Hanna: [00:03:31] Yeah, that is a big transition because now your friends are relying on you for their raises, their bonuses, maybe even the plum assignments. So that puts a lot of tension and stress on a friendship. So can you give us an example, one or two situations that even an experienced manager could trip over and some advice on what they could do to manage it better?


Barbara: [00:03:56] Sure. I love to put the problem out there, which is why we wrote The Manager’s Answer Book, but also give the answer. We didn’t just put the issues out. So, yes, I think one of the biggest challenges for any manager, especially as you rise through the ranks in an organization, is thinking that, OK, now I’m at a level where I should be I should know everything. I am the one that people should come to. I should have all of the answers. And I think a lot of people get tripped up that way by thinking that they are the only one that has the answer, rather than thinking I need to be continuing to develop my skills. I need to be able to be learning and be a good role model for my employees. And that kind of attitude, along with some other things. I think what people really struggle with is not listening. Listening is such a valuable managerial trait that many people fall behind on. So those are a couple of things that just come to mind. But there are certainly many others that can trip somebody up.



Hanna: [00:05:05] Well, what would be some advice for how to improve those areas so that you don’t get as tripped up?


Barbara: [00:05:13] You got to rely on what you think you already know, but to acknowledge the fact that you probably need a mentor. You continue to get development for yourself so that you’re constantly improving your skills. That really models for your employees that we all should be learning. We all should be lifelong learners. And I think managers, that wherever they are, whether you’re a new manager or an well experienced manager, if you are continuing to develop your skills through having a mentor, listening to podcasts like the one you’re listening to now, reading books, of course, as an author, I love to suggest that people read, but there’s so many ways to develop your skill set now that you can do on your own. You can do it in a group setting, but constantly be improving your skills. It not only makes you a better manager, but it sends a powerful message to your team that they also need to be improving their skills when you model that behavior.


Hanna: [00:06:17] Always be learning and encourage it and your team. That’s great, you know, building and developing a team is complicated. What does a manager need to know about retaining and growing a great team of people?




Barbara: [00:06:31] Well, I would even go one step behind that, Hanna, and say that the most important thing a manager does is hire the right people for the organization. In my work, I say this over and over and over. There’s nothing more important than bringing the right people into your organization. Doesn’t matter what your product is or what your services are. If you don’t have the people who can deliver what it is that you want for them to get. So hiring the right people is such a key and that takes a real skill. It takes some practice. It takes a learning how to evaluate people not just reading a resume or not just going with that gut instinct where you if you like somebody, you’re going to hire them. But you asked about engagement. And I think engagement starts well before you even hire an employee. Engagement starts in what you tell people ahead of time in your job posting, your website, what kind of culture do you have? What do you showcase about your organization? That’s the kind of message you want to send to your prospective employees. So when they do decide to join you, and that has to be a mutual decision, they have to like you as much as you like them in the hiring process. Then you come in and you need to onboard them properly, let them know what the culture is.


Barbara: [00:07:54] Don’t just sit them in a conference room with a stack of manuals and say, here, here’s what you need to know. Call me if you have questions. I think onboarding is a long process where you bring people into the culture and then that builds their engagement. But many people make the decision whether they’re going to really like a job or not very early on in their career. And you don’t want those decisions to be. I don’t think this is right for me. I made a bad decision. You want the opposite. You want them to be excited about the work that they’re going to do, the contributions that they can make and where they see themselves going. And that takes real effort on the part of the managers. It’s not, and I’ll just say this is a long time H.R. person, engagement is not an H.R. responsibility. Of course, H.R. a part of all the process, but the manager is the one that really, really makes a difference in how engaged an employee is. And boy, is that important for retention. It all fits together. How you hire people, how you want for them fits into: are they going to stay with you. And you want them, you want your superstars for sure. But even your average employees, the people that get the work done, you want them to stay with you.


Hanna: [00:09:14] Absolutely. Because that whole process that you just described is very time consuming and expensive. So you’re making it an investment in an employee. But you know, Barbara, while you’re explaining all this, I have to smile to myself about, “don’t stick somebody in a room, give them a bunch of policies and say, read this,” because I actually did have a job one time where before my start date, I received a big box delivered to my front door. And what was in it? A bunch of policy manuals I was asked to read beforehand and I thought I was going to get quizzed after I filled out my tax forms. It was pretty amusing.


Hanna: [00:09:52] And I hope you didn’t think maybe I made a bad decision to accept this job. I hope you . .. but you could have made that decision. You know people do make those kinds of decisions, whether or not treated properly in the hiring process. So, yeah, it’s a good example.


Hanna: [00:10:09] Well, yeah. I mean, but I didn’t know at the time. I figured, like, OK, this is this is the way they are. I’m going to dive in.




Hanna: [00:10:16] But, you know, you talk about treating all employees and not just your superstars as equally important. But let me throw this out at you. Suppose you have a superstar that you’re managing and you suddenly feel threatened by them. You know, the friend issue just even put aside for a second, and I don’t mean threatened in a physical bullying kind of way. Not at all. But that, yeah, they’re superstars, they’re smarter than me. They could do my job better than me. Oh, my gosh. What? What do you do then?


Barbara: [00:10:49] You make the best use of that wonderful talent because they’re making you, as the manager, look good, and if you can have that confidence in yourself and say, I’ve got a superstar or two or three or whatever, and I’m going to maximize how their contribution results in good work that my department is doing, that’s going to reflect on me. Certainly it takes confidence. You used the word threatened and I hope that that’s too strong a word; but, I know exactly what you mean. There are people that are threatened and then they either try to get that person out and that usually backfires because other people in the organization are well aware. If you’ve got a superstar in your organization, that person’s getting some attention for probably well above you’re your job. So if it happens, you’re lucky. You’ve got a great employee. Use that person’s talents to the max and use them perhaps as a mentor.


Barbara: [00:11:53] Ask them if they will help you develop some other people’s skills. But don’t let them threaten you in terms of maybe they want your job. Terrific if they do want your job and maybe you can apply for one above where you are right now. I loved when I was an internal H.R. person. I loved hiring the absolute best person I could who made me grow and learn. But I know a lot of people don’t feel that way. I know that a lot of people really don’t want someone who might want their job. But personally, I think that makes me a better manager. And it helped me advance my career because if I had someone who could replace me, then I could take a higher-level job. So don’t be threatened, use it appropriately.



Hanna: [00:12:42] That’s a great way to look at it. And I hope that our listeners do take that to heart because it’s about the whole growth mentality that the pie gets bigger, not smaller, and that everybody has can have a bigger share. So let’s talk about The Managers Answer Book. I’m really fascinated by the format. It’s question and answer. Why did you do that for this book?


Barbara: [00:13:11] We thought it would be a really fun way to give short –and they are short — they are a question that rarely is it more than a page or a page and a half with the question and the answer. But we tried to make it as easy to follow and just give people the basics of what it is that they need to know, both for a new manager and an experienced manager. We talk about how to build your brand, how to work with people above you, how to work with people, your peers. And then we also put in some chapters about some pitfalls, legal issues and things that people really need to know. But we did all of it in a Q and A format, which I think makes it a very readable book. We also thought it would be great for a manager to have a copy of this give to their employees.


Barbara: [00:14:05] If somebody comes in and ask them a question that maybe they can say here, maybe you’ll find it in here and help the employee grow in a different way, perhaps. So we thought the format was fun. The publisher thought it was fun. And it’s worked, obviously, because we just as you mentioned, we’re fortunate enough to win the award in the business category for careers first place, which was really cool, definitely.


Hanna: [00:14:35] Congratulations. That is wonderful, wonderful achievement. And I think that question and answer format just make it a wonderful reference book for managers to have because they don’t have to wade knee deep through chapter after chapter to try and find an answer or hope that it’s indexed. It’s Q&A and it’s simple. Like you said, short, easy answers.  Quick. You can get on with your work. But I’m also intrigued by one of the sections in there about land mines. I’m always looking for where the pitfalls are because one of the things we try to do on Business Confidential Now is help managers, business leaders, executives, and entrepreneurs sidestep those things because they are so busy trying to do other things. So if we can learn from other people’s mistakes, that puts us way ahead.



Hanna: [00:15:25] Are there some land mines, you know, one or two that you could share with us that you think are just really noteworthy?


Barbara: [00:15:30] One of the things that we really struggled with is issues, whether it’s said or not, and I’ve come to really like it, and that’s the one where employees are just not sure about things. Like we all get calls from potential vendors who call employees in organizations and want to tell you something. And they can do a good job of maybe wanting to sell you a new some new software or whatever it is. What we wanted people to know is that the most organizations have purchasing departments. They have purchasing practices and usually have preferred providers that they have negotiated deals with. If suddenly you go off on your own and buy something that doesn’t go underneath the umbrella of your organization, you could cost your organization. Even though you think you’re doing a good thing, it could cost them a significant amount of money and damage your career in the process. So that’s one that that I thought was a good land mine, too. And not something that’s as obvious as perhaps some of the other one.


Hanna: [00:16:39] That is definitely a good land mine because, yes, especially the larger organizations, there is a lot of procedure that’s involved with purchasing, getting a number of different quotes, not just something from your friend. So it’s important to go through that process, especially credit checks. I know people that have gotten stuck with that because a simple step got avoided because, “oh, we need to get this done by the end of the month.” Yeah. And then when the company doesn’t get paid, it really can blow up. So that’s not really great. Now, there’s one thing that I really, that’s on my list here that that I really think is so critical now. That is managing remote teams.




Hanna: [00:17:20] More and more companies are allowing their employees to work from home voluntarily or not because of things that are happening in the world. But remote management just takes the whole leadership responsibility of managing to a whole other level because you’re not walking by somebody’s desk or saying hello. So all of that in-person contact is gone and it becomes a bigger challenge when you’re just connecting with somebody through the computer over a Zoom call. What advice do you have for managers on how to build strong teams in those kinds of circumstances?


Barbara: [00:18:03] We actually covered that, even though this book was written a couple of years ago, we actually cover it. We have a couple of Q&As in our book about managing remote workers, because it certainly has been something that’s been part of the work environment in many places, but certainly in the last six months. Now, we know that at this point, virtually everybody’s working from home and some organizations have already announced they’ll be working remotely until the end of 2021 one and many, many iterations in between. You hit on the most important thing, and that is the communication piece. And a lot of managers for years have fought having remote employees because they just didn’t feel like they could keep their what their employees were doing. They didn’t trust their employees. And I think we’re going to enter a whole new era of this trust, relationship, trust and transparency to guarantee two words that I think we’ll hear a great deal more of going forward in management, you’re right, you can’t see people, you can’t see what they’re doing, but you certainly can know whether or not their productivity is working. They’re working, whether they’re at home or whether they’re sitting in your office. So I think it’s a communication issue. I love some of the great stories that I’ve been hearing about how successful managers have been using all kinds of ways to keep in touch with their employees, including, I’ve heard some wonderful examples of senior managers, owners of companies or high level vice presidents or executive directors, a nonprofit, who actually make an individual phone call to an employee just to check in to see how they’re doing.


Barbara: [00:19:56] And this is having a tremendous effect on productivity and engagement and loyalty and all kinds of things. It sounds really hokey to say that you need to pick up the phone, which nobody has used in a long time. We’re all used to using email or text IMs and DMs and whatever. But the phone calls now are really having a very, very profound effect. And so I think we’re all going to be learning as we go. So there’s lots of lessons that we can learn. Can it be done? Absolutely. I think there are some very great examples of organizations that are being very successful with managing remote workers, and we all get better at it as we go. Now, I think one of the bigger issues as we’re going through all this is managing the stress levels. The difficulty of families and people with children and having to teach, as well as doing your work and all of these other issues that are hugely impacting right now today in 2020.


Hanna: [00:21:06] Absolutely, and I like what you mentioned is the senior level managers actually calling employees because it’s a two-way street, it’s not just about management being able to monitor productivity. But I’m also hearing that employees want to know that they still belong, that it’s not just the Zoom call is over and now, OK, I’m in my four walls, I’ve got my computer. But I’m wondering if the next e-mail or text messages says, “oh, Hanna, you’re highly qualified, but your services are no longer needed.” I think there’s that fear and that financial insecurity about how secure is my job when I could get axed any moment in an uncertain economy. So somebody reaching out by phone who can call and say, “Hi, Barbara, how are you doing? Is everything OK?” I mean, to know your name. Oh, my gosh. Oh . . .


Barbara: [00:22:06] I know.


Hanna: [00:22:06] Yeah.


Barbara: [00:22:06] Very powerful. I have heard wonderful stories of senior people who have done it. And first of all, they are blown away by the response they get, which is encouraging as a senior manager or director of A.P. or even be the CEO to get that kind of feedback. Wonderful. But the impact it has on the employee and you cannot measure that now that that’s huge.


Hanna: [00:22:32]  It’s not only they know who I am, but they come across as caring.


Hanna: [00:22:37] So what they say in those calls is really important. But making it in the first instance is just really, as you said, incredibly powerful. It’s just monumental. So I’d like to get back to your book for a second. What was it like to have it acknowledged and when you won this fabulous award?




Barbara: [00:22:58] It was really wonderful, you know, as a writer, you pick your writing for all kinds of reasons. Certainly I want to share with your listeners that one of the reasons you write business books is probably not to make a lot of money because they don’t tend to make a lot of money, but we write them because we want to help people. And then to be recognized for that is just like the icing on the cake. And the funny thing this year, of course, normally this this award has a major awards ceremony, like it’s the Olympics or the Academy Awards for publishing. They do it in conjunction with the American Library Association at their annual conference. Well, of course, this year that conference was virtual. So our award ceremony was virtual. And Cornelia and I laughed about should we put on our gowns and sit and watch online? Cornelia actually lives in New Mexico and I live in Washington, D.C., so obviously we couldn’t be together. But we did watch it online separately and it was just really fun. Fortunately for us, it’s alphabetical order. So business came early because there were I think there were 70 awards and it did get a little tedious. I hope nobody’s listening from the awards ceremony right now to hear me say that.  We did, we stuck with it. We listened all the way to the end and we actually got a medal, a gold medal which looks like a big medal.


Hanna: [00:24:40] Wow.


Barbara: [00:24:41] It’s not real gold, of course, but that’s pretty cool. And a certificate and, you know, a little bit of money. We’re not talking about major contribution to your mortgage, but it was very exciting, just to be acknowledged, in any case, to be recognized is very worthwhile.


Hanna: [00:25:03] Well, it’s a wonderful accolade. Not just for the award, but I also think you’re going to be helping so many people with The Manager’s Answer Book, because there is just so much that managers have on their plate and any help that they can get, especially as a handy reference guide, I’m sure is going to be welcome. So what’s next for you, Barbara Mitchell? You’ve written some amazing books. What other projects are you working on?


Barbara: [00:25:32] Well, one of the things that I’m doing a lot Hanna, and I think it’s probably helpful for a lot of people right now, is working with a lot of people that are in a career transition, unfortunately, through no fault of their own. I really love helping people think about what might be next for them, and especially people who are looking for either to change fields or change locations, really kind of making it into a project to help them think about what’s that’s what we’re doing. I’m doing a lot of that. We also have a new book coming out later this year that is a departure from the books that Cornelia and I have done so far.


Hanna: [00:26:15] We hope that people will enjoy it. I think it’s the book that every H.R. person threatens to write. It’s based on interviews with a lot of people about the crazy or inappropriate or wild things that people do at work. So it’s based on true stories, but we’ve made it into a creative nonfiction, like a historical novel where you’re taking real events, that you’re embellishing them.


Hanna: [00:26:44]  Well, maybe that one they can make into a movie.


Barbara: [00:26:48] Oh, we hope so. Or maybe we think maybe even a TV series. All kinds of things can happen from this. From your mouth to God’s ears.


Hanna: [00:26:58] Well, Barbara, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been great to have you. Thank you.


Barbara: [00:27:03] Thank you. I’ve enjoyed it.


Hanna: [00:27:05] That’s our show for today. Thank you for joining me. If you’d like to learn more about today’s guest, you can go to our website at BusinessConfidentialRadio.com. It’s got a lot of other powerful information and resources available to help your business grow. So be sure to check that out. The website again is BusinessConfidentialRadio.com.


Hanna: [00:27:26] I’m Hanna Hasl-Kelchner. And you’ve been listening to Business Confidential Now.


Hanna: [00:27:31] Have a great rest of the day and an even better tomorrow.

Guest: Barbara Mitchell

Barbara Mitchell

Barbara Mitchell an acclaimed expert in human resources management and award winning co-author of The Manager’s Answer Book: Powerful Tools to Maximize Your Impact and Influence, Build Trust and Teams, and Respond to Challenges – a 2020 winner of the prestigious Next Generation Indie Book Award.

Barbara is enthusiastic about helping organizations find, hire, engage and retain the best available talent. That’s why she founded The Mitchell Group, a management consulting practice that helps clients with people and talent management issues. She also maintains an active blog. Prior to her consulting, she spent much of her business career with Marriott International.

You might already be familiar with some of Barbara’s other work. In 2012, together with Cornelia Gamlem she wrote The Big Book of HR because managing people is the most challenging part of any leader’s day. The dynamic writing duo has since drilled down even further with their latest timeless release, The Manager’s Answer Book.


Related Resources:

Contact Barbara and connect with her on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Big Book of HR Twitter, as well as the Got Work Conflict Twitter.

You might also enjoy Barbara’s earlier interview How to Keep Workplace Conflict From Turning Toxic.

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