Creating a Positive Environment: Lessons from a New Manager’s Mistakes

I remember when I was a new manager and my only goal was to be the best. I didn’t care what it took. I was fueled by ambition and I thought I had all the answers.

The team I was assigned to was full of misfits and newbies. But, in my third month with the team, we shocked the world by crushing every other team’s sales goal. People were starting to notice that we were having fun, creating excitement, and delivering results.

I now know, the data supports the effectiveness of this approach:

Moving from almost the bottom to almost the top in such a short amount felt incredible. And I wanted MORE! My mentality changed from “Let’s get better today” to “It’s not good enough until we are the best.”

I was determined to find everything that was preventing our team from reaching the top. They said they wanted to be #1 also. I thought they understood why I was doing what I was doing. But the more I focused on the team’s opportunities, the worse we did. Nobody was having fun. Instead of thriving, they were doing the bare minimum. Some of them avoided eye contact when I talked to them. People started calling out sick more often.

After about three weeks of hitting my head against the wall, I brought the team together for a meeting. I told them that I didn’t know what was different and that we were struggling. The energy was different. I realized that I needed to take a step back and let the team talk about what was going on and what needed to change. When I came back, they told me I was the problem. 

At first, I got defensive–couldn’t they see how hard I was working? But then I realized that they were right. I had become hyper-critical and had stopped celebrating successes and building on strengths. My focus on becoming the best only created disengagement – even though I had good intentions.

Hearing the feedback made me see how wrong my approach was. I started having more fun at work, the team enjoyed the atmosphere again, and we started winning. Does anyone remember that we were the #1 team for two months after that? No. But what mattered was that we had become a supportive community again.

From that experience, I learned that as a leader, it’s essential to create a positive and supportive environment where team members feel comfortable giving feedback and celebrating successes. 

Here are three things I hope you’ll pull from this story:

  1. Create a culture of trust and transparency by regularly asking for feedback from your team.
  2. Focus on building on strengths and celebrating successes, not just identifying opportunities and flaws.
  3. Be willing to take a step back and reflect on your approach. Sometimes, you need to let your team lead and share their thoughts and ideas.

In the end, I realized that becoming a great leader isn’t just about being the best – it’s about creating an environment where everyone can thrive and grow.

Jacob Espinoza is a leadership coach in Salem, Oregon. For more information visit JacobEspinoza.com.

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