5 No-Nos for New Bosses

Firms are adding hundreds of thousands of new managers each year, and many are making some easily avoidable mistakes.

New bosses have a lot of company these days. There are already more than 9 million manager roles in the US workforce, and boss positions are expected to grow 8% between now and 2031, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics—faster than the average increase for all occupations. Many of those new slots will be filled by millennials and Gen Z-aged workers, who will make up nearly 60% of the workforce by the end of the decade.

Becoming the boss can be as daunting as it is exciting. With the extra pay and responsibility comes the opportunity to make first-time leadership mistakes. Experts say those early errors can be extremely costly. “As soon as you’ve lost the trust of your team, it is incredibly difficult to build that back up,” says Stacey Perkins, career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. “If there’s a strain in that relationship, it ultimately starts breaking down and can have impacts across the organization.”

For better or worse, the culture that leaders establish in their first weeks sets the tone for their tenure. We asked Korn Ferry leadership experts what the five biggest new-boss no-nos are, and how to combat them.

Being too mean… or too nice

There’s a fine line for many new bosses between being too authoritative and too friendly. “New bosses can often dull their personalities and not engage with employees, or they can be overly friendly and pleasing, and that leads to less respect,” says Sondra Levitt, career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.

Leaders who are too nice fall into patterns of inefficient leadership and can risk organizational harm, while bosses who are too authoritative are perceived as disrespectful. “The middle ground is being authentic,” Levitt adds. Finding balance is important now because Gen Z job candidates often turn down companies that do not appear authentic.


New leaders often get caught up in details and lose sight of the bigger picture. Micromanagement leads to decreased growth potential, stunts department expansion, and puts managers at a higher risk of burnout, according to the National Institutes of Health. Levitt advises new bosses to establish “a clear vision for the end result and empower their team to accomplish it.” Instead of attempting to control every aspect of a project, bosses should learn about the strengths and weaknesses of their teams and inspire them to do quality work.

Forgetting, or being unwilling, to delegate

How big a problem is the inability to delegate? Korn Ferry researchers identified coaching on delegation as one of the top areas of need for midlevel and senior managers. Experts say those higher-level leaders didn’t adopt their do-everything attitude recently; they’ve been trying to do all the work ever since they first became managers.

Bosses should guide the team toward a project’s goals. When they take on a team’s tasks themselves, they confuse its expectations about divisions of work and can keep it from meeting its goals. “Let that team shine,” Perkins says. “That goes a long way in building trust. Give them the space to do it.”

Being a know-it-all… or thinking they need to know it all

New leaders often believe that they need to be experts on everything, but experts advise they seek mentors. “Rely on business partners for guidance,” says Brittney Molitor, an executive senior partner in Korn Ferry’s Human Resources Center of Excellence.

“When someone takes on a new position, they get a grace period. This is when no question is too dumb,” says Debra Nunes, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and executive leadership coach. For an array of perspectives, Levitt advises new leaders to find at least one mentor within their company and one outside. Seeking out mentors also can help new leaders advance their careers.

Being vague

Experts say clear communication is crucial to a leader's success and must be established early on. Being vague, especially on performance expectations, can diminish direct reports’ trust and confidence in a new boss. A Korn Ferry Institute report suggests that a clear understanding of purpose and goals increases employee engagement, which in turn promotes stronger performance and organizational outcomes.

Perkins says trustworthiness is a top area of concern among new leaders, one they can counteract through active and clear communication. Bosses need to get to know their direct reports, and vice versa. “You need to have some one-on-ones and keep the door open to allow for good communication,” she says.


Learn more about Korn Ferry’s Leadership and Professional Development capabilities.