Attention, Managers: Are You Making These Leadership Errors?

Veterinarian's Money Digest®June 2017
Volume 1
Issue 2

Managers can develop team members’ skills, knowledge and self-esteem, or they can create animosity, mistrust and doubt.

More than two decades ago, business trainer W. Steven Brown published a book about serious errors managers make that affect their ability to manage and lead their teams. Over time, the way we do business has evolved, but the fundamentals of those errors remain the same — and a few more have been added to the list.

If you’re a floor manager, shift manager, lead technician, head of surgery or chief medical officer, you are in charge of critical services that have a direct impact on patient care, client service, team performance and business success. It also means that you’re at risk for failure, especially if you haven’t been prepared properly to tackle a supervisory role. Take the time to develop your leadership skills by educating yourself about these 14 common management errors.

Error #1: Refusing to Accept Personal Accountability

This error is all about blaming — blame the employees, blame the clients...blame anything and anybody while never accepting responsi- bility for the role they played in the situation. When a manager blames others, he or she loses credibility. The team begins to lose trust in the manager’s ability to lead, and the ripple effect soon takes over and everyone else starts playing the blame game as well. A good manager admits his or her mistakes, makes the effort to rectify the situation, learns from it and takes steps to prevent a recurrence.

Error #2: Failing to Develop People

This error can involve failing to train the team or failing to take advantage of “learning situations.” At worst, it is the manager deliberately making people dependent on him or her by preventing employees from becoming independent thinkers. Failing to develop others gives the manager more work to do — but it is not productive work. Team members don’t develop skills that would aid in growing the business; and, as the saying goes, the test for a manager is not what the manager can do, but what others can do without the manager.

Error #3: Trying to Control Results Instead of Influencing Thinking

This error is a failure both to explain the value of an activity and to provide tools and training that can enhance performance. Instead, the manager just “barks” about activities. Influencing how team members think about their job responsibilities requires information from the manager about the level of their performance and the effects of their performance on patient care and client service. A manager who presents facts, works with others to involve them in a process, gains support and builds relationships encourages thinking by everyone on the team.

Error #4: Joining the Wrong Crowd

By using labels to identify certain cliques — Us versus Them, The Front versus The Back, Management versus Team — the manager is referring derisively to others on the team. In some cases, the manager may be setting up battling factions. A manager should not align with any group. It’s the manager’s role to maintain ethical standards, build loyalty over common goals and make every effort to move the team toward productive outcomes.

Error #5: Managing Everyone the Same Way

The error of micromanaging or not managing at all results in the manager being viewed as lacking credibility, knowledge, or leadership capability. Managers who never change their leadership style can appear to be either avoiders or bullies. Managers need to educate themselves on the appropriate uses for different leadership and communication styles. Knowing when to direct, coach, support or delegate is important when dealing with a diverse group of people with varying knowledge and skill levels.

Error #6: Forgetting the Importance of Profit

Managers who don’t link their decisions to prac- tice finances risk failure. Decisions such as permitting overtime hours every payroll, letting inefficiencies continue to grow, authorizing expenses without analyzing the request or not following the budget can hurt the practice financially. Managers need to work on the business rather than simply working in the business. They must sit down with practice owners and take part in monitoring expenses, planning budgets and understanding the relationship between expenses and income.

Error #7: Concentrating On Problems Rather Than Objectives

Much of a manager’s time is spent dealing with problems, many of which fall under the category of not important and not urgent. When a manager is always putting out fires, he or she doesn’t have time to focus on staff creativity and efficiency. Instead of always focusing on what is bro- ken, look at what is working well. Appreciative inquiry is a management tool for looking at what works and how it can be applied to other procedures and processes.

Error #8: Being a Buddy, Not a Cross

When a manager develops a “buddy” relationship with one employee, other team members often see the relationship as being too social. Managers may also put themselves into a situation in which decisions benefit an individual but not the entire organization. The dynamics of the work relationship change and make it more difficult for a manager to conduct performance reviews, discipline or even mediate workplace conflict. This error is especially common when someone is promoted from within the ranks to a management position.

Error #9: Failing to Set Standards

Lack of compliance, lack of consistency, lack of authority — all of these affect a manager’s ability to do his or her job. The manager must establish and enforce compliance with practice policies and procedures, holding people accountable when standards are not followed.

Error #10: Failing to Train Your Team

It’s hard to hold people accountable if they are not trained properly in how to perform their jobs. Failure to train the team inhibits advancement of the practice, prevents initiation of new programs, and permits ongoing low standards of care.

Empower the team to perform at their best level by giving them the tools and knowledge they need to perform their jobs. Establish a budget (typically 0.5 to 3 percent of payroll) for training and continuing education needs.

Error #11: Condoning Incompetence

Trying to be a buddy, avoiding difficult decisions and not holding others accountable all give the impression that the manager condones incompetence and is unable or unwilling to lead. Managers need to use effective confrontation techniques when a team member is not performing well. Point out what behavior is being observed, how it makes others feel and how it affects the team’s overall performance. Then, get the individual’s input and agreement on what will be done, and follow up using a performance improvement plan.

Error #12: Recognizing Only the Top Performers

Recognizing only top performers creates a barrier for effectively improving the performance of the entire team. Staff members who are not given recognition because they are not top performers may perceive that they will never achieve top performer status and thus will never be recognized for goals they achieve.

Managers can recognize every team member by using the leadership styles of directing, coaching, supporting and delegating. Acknowledging small “wins” as a person progresses through the different phases of developing competencies will encourage those team members to keep striving.

Error #13: Manipulating People

Manipulation can include coercion, attacking the self-esteem of others, creating fear within the team, pitting individuals against each other, intimidation and even threats. Any time a manager resorts to manipulative tactics to motivate people, failure will result eventually. Instead, encourage the right behaviors for achieving goals, build trust and learn how to motivate people the ethical way.

Error #14: Forgetting the Power of Communication

Leaders who don’t ensure the flow of information from all areas of the business and those who lack emotional intelligence are unable to motivate the team to action. These leaders break down trust within the team and hinder the team’s productivity. Skillful interpersonal communication means that the manager not only speaks but also listens with full attention.


Management is a skill that must be developed in order to provide for successful business results. Managers who make these errors deconstruct the work environment to a point where the team cannot function at their highest potential. Louise S. Dunn is an award-winning speaker, writer and consultant who brings over 40 years of in-the-trenches experience and business education to veterinary management. She is founder and CEO of Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting, which helps veterinarians develop strategic plans that consistently produce results.

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