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Marlene Chism


Five Managerial Mistakes That Contribute to Workplace Drama

Addressing root causes

Published: Tuesday, January 9, 2018 - 12:02

Many new leaders silently struggle in their leadership role. They avoid difficult conversations about performance because they do not have the confidence or the skill to coach others or facilitate change. Or, they do not have the critical skills to determine the root problem of poor performance, so their decisions are based on assumptions rather than analytical thinking.

These managerial mistakes contribute to a culture of mistrust and disempowerment. Executives can use the following short list to determine the root causes of leadership failures within their organizations.
1. Failing to develop new leaders
2. Avoiding performance conversations
3. Taking it personally
4. Making assumptions
5. Using accountability the wrong way

Inadequate development

A good technical worker is not necessarily a born leader. Newly selected leaders often experience an identity crisis due to lack of leadership development. The new leader has not had the time or development necessary to identify with the new role as leader. As a result, this new leader makes rookie mistakes.

The first mistake is trying to be everyone’s best friend. The open door soon becomes a revolving door. The end result is the new manager has to work around the clock to get work done, and the employees become co-dependent instead of empowered. The second mistake is laying down the hammer to show who is boss. The end result is a toxic work environment.

Neither way works, but because the new manager doesn’t have the skills, they avoid performance conversations and coaching.

Avoiding performance conversations

Conversations about performance are avoided for many reasons, including lack of confidence. The manager is afraid the employee will cry. Or the manager is afraid of blowing up. Or the manager is afraid the employee will lead the conversation off course.

I can’t tell you how many midlevel managers have asked me, “What do I say if they point out that I was unfair with Jessie?” Managers do not know how to focus the conversation toward an end result; therefore, they simply avoid, and thus set themselves and their employees up for failure.

Taking it personally

Jayne continues to show up late, Robert never makes enough sales calls, and Jayda continues to “forget” the deadlines. Poor performers cause a lot of problems for managers, and because the conversations are avoided the performance usually continues to worsen. Eventually, the manager starts to take it personally and the resentment builds. When a manager says she is going to talk with an employee for the purpose of documenting so that she feels justified to fire the employee, it’s clear that the intention has gone from helping to justifying firing someone.

Making assumptions

Once anger and resentment settle in, it’s easy to assume wrong intention or lack of will on the part of the employee. Without the ability to discern whether the real problem is clarity, priority, resources, skill, or will, the manager assumes the issue is one of will instead of skill. Often, I have found a skill deficit when the manager thought the issue was insubordination or lack of will.

Using accountability the wrong way

When a manager talks about creating an accountable culture, it’s likely because he is trying to use accountability as a whipping stick. Example: If you don’t do XYZ, then you will get punished by ABC.

The real issue is one of personal responsibility. If a manager can’t get the employee to own the job, no amount of accountability is going to get the kind of performance required. Employees skew the numbers to avoid the punishment. In my book, No-Drama Leadership, I make a distinction between accountability and responsibility. Accountability is about measurement and is of the head. Responsibility is about ownership and is of the heart. You need both to be successful; however, you can’t make someone accountable who doesn’t take ownership.


Very few newly promoted first- and second-level leaders come with the skills they need to be effective leaders. Very few will ask for help for fear of seeming incompetent. Using the above list, your senior leadership can see where the root problems contribute to lack of engagement, turnover, and a culture of workplace drama.

With the right development in critical thinking, new and seasoned leaders can acquire the skills necessary to improve performance and create a culture of personal responsibility and empowerment.

First published on the SmartBrief blog.


About The Author

Marlene Chism’s picture

Marlene Chism

Marlene Chism is a consultant, educator, and speaker. She works to improve communication and relationships, build wise leaders, and to help individuals discover, develop and deliver their gifts to the world. The result on a personal level is more joy and higher personal effectiveness. On the professional level the result is profitability through clarity and alignment. Chism is the author of Stop Workplace Drama (Wiley, 2011) and No-Drama Leadership (Bibliomotion, 2015).