5 Most Common Mistakes High Potential Managers Make

By Igshaan Soules
leadership mistakes
All managers and leaders make mistakes. It is part of the learning process as they move into ever more complex roles and situations. Each situation is unique and the mistakes managers make are specific to the role they play given a specific context and circumstance.  However, understanding who you are, your strengths and development areas will contribute significantly towards avoiding the most common mistakes high potential managers make that could potentially derail their career.

In reflecting on the biggest mistakes I made as an emerging manager and leader, the following 5 stands out. They stood out because at the time, I lacked self-awareness of my impact.

Big Mistake #1. Telling My Boss He Is Incompetent

Now, I don’t know about you, but calling your boss incompetent is looking for trouble. I had reached the end of my patience with a boss that was incapable of making a decision. Although the perspective I held was not far from the truth, the reality is that being in a good relationship with my manager was key if I had any hope of a successful career in the company.

I am sure you have more savvy than I had then, but given the rate and pace of change, it is quite possible that at some point you may begin to question the competence of your boss. Don’t let the exuberance of youth get the better of common sense behavior. Nurture a positive and healthy relationship with your manager.

Many managers and leaders whether directly or indirectly, overtly or in more subtle ways, make this mistake far to often.

When do you make your manager / colleagues, wrong?

Big Mistake #2. Not Taking Control Of The Situation

Successful and on my next mission to “fix” an ERP project, two of my managers colluded to defraud the company of money and assets – this started six months prior to my taking on the new role. Although I uncovered the fraud and took action, I failed to take control of the situation early enough when the warning signs were there.

I was too busy getting on with the “real” business of managing and leading the division, focusing on the big impact initiatives.

Many high potential managers often fail to take a more broader perspective on their role and become to functionally focused.

What warning signs (currently flashing in amber or red) are you ignoring?

Big Mistake #3. Not Putting The Right Skills in Place

I have by and large done well on this front except once. I chose an insider whom I thought I could trust to handle a sensitive portfolio and ended up getting burned – turns out this individual was overlooked for the role to which I was eventually appointed.

The individual in questions chose every opportunity to undermine me, my credibility and my efforts to run a well structured portfolio. Worst still, I chose this individual on the basis of trust – I extended an olive branch out to her when appointing her to this role – rather than her experience or ability to do the job.

When (Or Where) Do You Misplace Your Trust?

Big Mistake #4. Not Being Clear About Performance Metrics

Most high potential managers are reasonably successful but at some point get tripped up because they do not manage expectations. I have been reasonably successful in delivering the goods on most occasions in my career. But, there was once when the assignment was big, no HUGE.

The board wanted everything delivered overnight – and I am talking in excess of R300m ($50m) of value. Not nailing “what success will look like” and how this will unfold over what time frame resulted in what was by all accounts an excellent job, being classified as unsuccessful.

High potential managers are keen to demonstrate their worth and perhaps underestimate what it may take to get a job done. Managing the expectations of stakeholders become important to ensure you remain aligned.

What gets in the way of you NOT taking a stand for what you can reasonably deliver? 

Big Mistake #5. Not Aligning My Style To The Style of The New Guy

Getting a great manager is often the luck of the draw. I have been reasonably lucky to have had great managers in my career. I relished the opportunity to be deemed their equal and partner and thrived in these environments where I was given “free reign”.

But once, I failed … (perhaps even refused?) to align my style to the new guy coming on board because I felt he misunderstood what truly needed to happen within the organization. I tried to align his style to mine and his priorities to what I thought the organisations priorities were.

The end result, I got in my own way.

When do you get in your own way?



Making mistakes are normal for managers and leaders. However, it is how you respond to them to avoid making similar or other career limiting mistakes that are essential for nurturing a thriving career. Don’t fall prey to these common mistakes I have made, and to what I notice are the five most common mistakes high potential managers make.

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One Comment

  1. great lessons shared for managers operating daily in a minefield and the deadlines and deliverables get tighter and harder with the advent of new technology

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