The 3 Sins of Management

In the coaching I do with managers, I’ve found that there are three different pitfalls that constantly rear their ugly heads. I’ve come to call them the 3 Mortal Sins of Management.

One has to do with tripping yourself up in basic good supervision.

Another has to do with the way we revere the truth.

And the last has to do with keeping the working environment dynamic.

Let’s talk about them one at a time.

1. Tacit Approval

As a manager, you give someone your “tacit approval” when you do not take action on some transgression they know you are aware of. Confronting the staff involved, and following up when correction and disciplinary action are necessary, is critical within your role as Keeper of High Performance Expectations — for everyone, fair and square.

As unpleasant as it may be to deal with these things, eliminating any trace of tacit approval in the workplace is one of the reasons managers are needed: it’s one of the key reasons why self-directed work teams have not been able to exist totally on their own in most businesses. Managers are the ones who treat those playing foul tactfully but consistently, conducting themselves with distinction as they treat others with dignity and respect (ho‘ohanohano) while firmly, assuredly correcting and guiding their better behavior. Great managers groom talent: they do not ignore the opportunities they have to do so.

Managers must learn when it’s best to take care of staff issues individually versus collectively, and they must be the ones to discover all root causes, but they must, must, must take action and not look away. If you don’t deal with things as they happen, the message you silently give is that it’s okay as long as you don’t get caught, or that mediocrity is okay until it gets chronic. Then you end up doing crisis management because situations have festered and gotten far worse. At the very least, you allow the onset of apathy.

Update: Brand new post dedicated only to this: Tacit Approval: Don’t you dare give it!

2. Lies of Omission

This is one of those coaching lessons you get a lot of aha! moments in when you are a parent as well as a manager. With both my children and my employees I took care to teach them that a lie not spoken aloud is still a lie, and it still hurts someone or something in some way.

I would much rather deal with a big ugly truth than a small white lie, and I did my very best to cultivate a safe atmosphere wherein my children and my employees would give it to me straight no matter how awful a situation may be. I want to know what I must deal with — or what we must deal with — as soon as possible. No matter what it is, it is always far easier to deal with something that is out in the open and exposed in all its ugliness. Lies are never totally hidden and tucked away: in some way they affect someone’s health and spirit. Living with lies will kill a person’s ability to completely share their own aloha with others.

The positive flip side of this is that knowledge — any knowledge — is empowering and transformational. I’ve come to think of knowledge as food: food for mind, heart and soul. Learning inspires us, and when we “come to know” something and we seek better solutions, we can give birth to creativity. At the very least, we create new energy.

Three things for managers: first, openly talk about lies of omission with your staff. Introduce the phrase as newly known vocabulary (same with tacit approval, for many do not use that phrase either) and inculcate it into the language of your company. Second, seize personal responsibility for creating a safe atmosphere where anyone can talk to you about anything without fear of repercussion (tip: start with the Daily 5 Minutes). Third, lead by example, and admit when you’re wrong and need a better truth yourself. Apologize when you should.

3. Automatic Pilot

A car left on cruise control will ultimately run off the road or out of gas. Same thing happens to any process in a business that is left on automatic pilot. Great managers learn to love this question: “Tell me again – why is it that we do it this way?”

You can fill in these blanks with a whole myriad of systems and processes in your company:
Why is this paperwork so necessary when we __________ ?
Are we absolutely sure that this is the best solution for __________ ?
Have we ever tried to __________ when we do this?
How long have we been __________ this way?
When was the last time we put __________ back out to bid?
Why are we replacing __________ instead of reinventing __________ in the company?
Word association: red tape and bureaucracy for us, equals __________ ?

Why does it have to be this way?

It probably doesn’t. It probably shouldn’t. Create, innovate, change: just try something new and surprise yourself. Surprise everyone. Pull the plug and turn off the life support: Actively heal.

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Related Reading since the time this post was originally published:

  1. A cure for automatic pilot: Managers: Promote a Culture of Asking
  2. A cure for lies of omission (in addition to the D5M, for that one is BASIC): Turn up the Volume and Manage Loudly
  3. Create your work culture with well chosen vocabulary: The Best, Yet Most Underutilized Tool for Communication There Is, and then,
  4. Please follow up! Improve your Reputation with 1 List
  5. Never take being a great manager for granted: Managing well is better than Leading



  1. says

    Sins and Sweetness

    Rosa Say offered a great post yesterday called, the 3 Sins of Management. Here’s how she tees it up: ”In the coaching I do with managers, I’ve found that there are three different pitfalls that constantly rear their ugly heads.