Management & leadership

It’s Murder in Management: Know how to not get murdered

Management coach Cathy Shimmin offers some practical advice on how managers can dodge the firing line.

There are so many mistakes a manager can make –whether veteran or experienced – that it can sometimes feel like walking the gauntlet.  

What should you know and take the lead on and when do you let the team lead, with you relying on their knowledge and expertise?  

Why is treating everyone the same way, not the same as treating everyone equally and fairly?  

Are you really supporting well-being or being well done in?  

My personal view is that ‘poor’ management is not usually a result of someone setting out to be difficult, inadequate, unprofessional or controlling (though it’s easy to perceive it that way). Usually, we just get things wrong sometimes – simple. Unfortunately, that means we sometimes create the wrong impression in the eyes of others, thus placing us directly in the firing line. 

Why managers get murdered 

We often put ourselves in the firing line by defaulting to Reaction Mode; through wanting to impress in the moment, wanting to be ‘the fixer’ or being too afraid we might make one mistake.  

Here are some examples of very common approaches we take, that fall flat in the eyes of others –and worse, don’t find the best solution in the situation anyway. 

Situation: In a meeting and don’t know the right numbers for this month’s accounts. 

Reaction: Take a stab, make a guess, just to put something forward. 

Impression: You’re making it up as you go along (grab a spade). 

Result: Misinformation, delays, suspicion …. 


Situation: Resolving minor conflict between two team members. 

Reaction: Tell them what to do without establishing what is actually going on. 

Impression: You don’t listen and/or you take sides (choose a patch). 

Result: One or both don’t trust you in future, the situation arises again. 


Situation: Your report wants day a off but the request is too late to accommodate the rota change. 

Reaction: Just say yes, for an easy life and so you look like a nice person. 

Impression: Staff are more important than beneficiaries. You ignore policies (start digging). 

Result: You’re working extra hours again, but never mind, you look like a nice person. 


Situation: Making a decision relating to the team’s work or performance. 

Reaction: Constantly checking with your manager what you should do.  

Impression: You won’t take responsibility (you have now made your own grave). 

Result: I think you can work this one out. 

 If any of this sounds familiar, don’t despair, just switch mode. Think about what you might do differently if you adopted Response Mode instead of React Mode. When we choose to respond instead of react we are considered, reflective, information seeking and in emotional control. We have a better chance of making the right choices, choosing the right words, using the right tone and finding the best solutions. 

How to get out of the firing line 

Looking credible as a manager is not about looking good all the time. It is about confidently managing difficult situations with integrity, a sense of purpose and sound rationale for actions. 

These are the things that give managers that credibility:  

  • They know their stuff:  Numbers and other data, organisation vision, mission, objectives and values. They know team and individual targets and priorities. They won’t know all of the policies in detail, but they’ll know where to find them and when to refer to them.  
  • They get to know people: as individuals. They understand and work with different communication style preferences. They confer trust, allow people to make mistakes and support improvement. They make themselves aware of the individual’s support needs, find out what makes people tick and how people would like to be supported and challenged. 
  • They know the lines of responsibility and authority: up and down the line, who can make decisions about what, who to consult, when and who to include in which conversations. They take accountability for their own actions and their team’s performance. They say sorry when they make mistakes. They hold others to account for their responsibilities. 
  • They know how and when to help: They strike the balance between micromanagement and being available when support is needed. When they make high demand they provide high support. They help with the how to do things– not just the telling of what to do. They use other colleagues’ expertise when needed.  
  • They know the big picture: They understand that we are all serving the purpose – not our seniors – and keep that focus in mind when planning, in difficult conversations, in problem-solving and supporting others to achieve goals. 

Take aim – things you can aim to do in future 

Knowing these things is a great starting point for effective management. Clearly, there are skills and qualities within each of these points that managers can develop and work on. Here are a few things you can do to get you off the starting block. 

  • Have a conversation up the line with your manager to clarify a mutual understanding of accountability and expected deliverables. Ditto – down the line with your reports. 
  • Familiarise yourself with your organisation’s vision, mission and objectives and find ways to relate that to your team’s work and goals. 
  • Familiarise yourself with some key policies. Good starting points might be your policies on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Code of Conduct/Standards of Behaviour, Support and Supervision, and Flexible Working.  
  • Prepare for meetings and discussions by familiarising yourself with related information – know the numbers for a budget meeting, know the facts before having a difficult conversation, and know the parameters for a brainstorming meeting. 
  • Get to know people so you can support their wellbeing – indications of stress and burnout, how they like to be supported, how they want feedback, what work-life balance means to them. 

If you’re looking to get off someone’s hit list quite soon, join us at our Murder in Management Conference for a series of workshops around these topics and more. You’ll hear from experienced speakers with a wealth of management experience and can take the opportunity to ask questions and learn from other participants. Book your place here