Illustration: Josie Jammet
The day I was made a boss for the first time, my own boss gave me a rhinestone-covered magic wand as a gift. "You're going to need this," she said with a wry smile, "to make all your mistakes disappear." Panic must have swept across my face at that moment, because my boss quickly winked at me. I laughed brightly in return, but inside I was thinking, "Mistakes? What mistakes are they expecting? They promoted me, didn't they?"
They had, of course, but they knew all too well what I was to find out. All bosses, even those with smarts and the most sincere intentions, make mistakes.
In the decade since I received that magic wand, I have encountered boss blunders of every variety. I didn't make them all myself, thankfully, although I did perpetrate more than a few. But the bulk of my exposure to boss mistakes has come from the firsthand accounts I've heard over the past several years from hundreds of working people, boss and not, in every line of work.
What I have discovered from these conversations, not surprisingly, is that most managerial mistakes cut across gender lines. Both men and women bosses, for instance, conduct performance appraisals too infrequently and without enough candor, and both men and women bosses get too caught up in daily details. And that's just the beginning of the list.
But there are a handful of mistakes women bosses tend to make more than men—five, to be exact. Not that men don't make these mistakes; they do, but much less often. Why? The explanation, in each case, has its roots in cultural and social traditions, and maybe even genetics. In the end, understanding why women make these mistakes is less important than understanding how they can avoid them.