One of the Biggest Mistakes I’ve Ever Made as a Manager

One of the biggest mistakes that I’ve made as a manager over the years was protecting my team too much. When I first started to manage people, I read (I can’t remember where) that it’s the job of a manager to enable their team to focus on their roles 100%. One of the ways to do this is to protect your team from issues and problems that they don’t really need to know about.

On the face of it, it’s good, solid advice and I took this very seriously for a very long time. I would tell my team to focus on their core roles, be clear about what this meant and let them get on with it.

Over time, I started to make a big mistake by taking this advice and extending it too much. Today, I want to explain what that mistake was and how you can avoid making the same one.

The mistake I made

For context, I’ve always worked in the agency world, meaning that work is nearly always being delivered for clients that have hired the agency. However, this mistake applies to pretty much any role.

If my team worked with a client and for some reason, that client became unhappy, my instinct was always to jump into the project, get hands on and help solve the problem. Whilst there isn’t anything wrong with wanting to help, the way I went about it was wrong.

I would often jump on a call with the client or go and meet them to discuss the problem and start to resolve it. Again, nothing wrong with this.

But – I usually did this without the team being involved. I would go and have a difficult conversation with a client who was often annoyed, angry or frustrated at the work that had been done – on my own. 

This was a mistake. I protected my team far too much. I absorbed the wrath of the client because I thought that this was my job.

It absolutely wasn’t and in the long term, I was actually damaging my team and their careers by not involving them in these conversations. 

The consequence of delivering work that wasn’t good enough or that wasn’t meeting the goals of the client, was that the client wanted a conversation about it and this conversation was often a difficult one. I protected my team from these consequences when in fact, my role was to be part of the conversation but to support and help them, not to completely take the conversation off their hands. 

Protecting my team from consequences

I’d like to start this section with a quote from a great book by David Marquet called Turn the Ship Around:

“Taking care of people does not mean protecting them from consequences of their own behaviour, this is the path to irresponsibility.”

I’ve definitely not realised the difference between protecting people and protecting people from consequences of their own behaviour. It’s cost me a lot over the years and ultimately, not just affected me, but held them back in their career.

This doesn’t mean that when someone makes a mistake or something goes wrong for them, that you go in all guns blazing and drag them over the coals for it. But it does mean that you shouldn’t avoid talking about the consequences and for most people, there will be two types:

  1. Consequences for them as individuals.
  2. Consequences for the person/company they are delivering work for.

When it comes to the individual, the consequences are likely to be in certain areas including:

  • Getting promoted
  • Getting pay rises
  • Being given more responsibility
  • Losing trust from colleagues

When someone makes a mistake, you need to talk to them about these consequences. 


Because without consequences, there can’t be accountability, responsibility or pride in someone’s work. There is no incentive or reason for them to learn or improve their work if there are no consequences for doing work badly or making mistakes. 

To try and deliver this message to someone who has made a mistake, I will often try to strike a balance between delivering the facts of a situation and asking them questions about what will happen as a result of mistakes that they have made.

For their own career, I may say to someone that if mistakes are being made on a regular basis, then it’s hard to put them forward for a promotion. This may be because a more senior person is expected to not make mistakes over and over again. Or it may be that a more senior person is given far more complex projects to work on and by making mistakes at their current level, you’re unable to consider them for these more complex projects. 

When it comes to the consequences for the person or company that they were delivering work for, it’s important to talk to your team about what this looks like when things go wrong. For example, particularly in the agency world, the consequences of mistakes could include:

  • Clients losing trust and confidence in you.
  • Clients moving on to another agency.
  • Investments being made into the wrong areas.

It’s important to talk about these because again, the individual needs to understand the impact of their work in both a positive and negative way. When things go well, they will be more than happy to take the praise and positive results, but they must also be prepared for the opposite too.

If a piece of work is delivered in a substandard way, you absolutely need to connect the work that has been done to the outcome and consequences. 

The part this plays in culture

I want to also briefly mention that if you protect your team to the point of not talking about the consequences of work that isn’t good enough, it can have a huge negative impact on the culture of your team too. This is especially true if you have high performers in your team who generally do great work and don’t make many mistakes or don’t accept low standards.

If you accept low standards in your team, you have set a new standard for everyone. 

When low standards become the new standard, then why should others try to do better? Even worse, if one team member delivers low quality work and they “get away with it” by not dealing with the consequences, then other team members will see this and ask why they should put in more effort and do better. 

This is another key reason why you can’t protect your team from the consequences of their actions and behaviours. In the long term, it will become embedded within your team that this is how things work. 

Top performers will either get dragged down too or they will leave. Either way, it will not be a good outcome. 

How to not make the same mistake

To finish up, let’s look at some actionable ways that you can avoid making the same mistake that I did by protecting my team too much.

Be clear on what high standards look like

This means that when the standards are not met, it’s far easier to talk about and someone isn’t being hit by something unexpected. If someone doesn’t know what high standards look like, how can they be expected to meet them?

When mistakes happen, involve the team in the solution

Don’t be tempted to take the problem fully into your own hands and solve it without your team. Of course, get involved and provide support, but don’t do their jobs for them. Ask the questions and direct them towards the answers.

Don’t avoid talking about consequences

When a problem comes up, connect it to the consequences and why the problem is a problem. This means that someone is able to see the impact of their work and to see why making mistakes or subpar work is a problem at all.

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