updated 9/1/2009 1:44:33 PM ET 2009-09-01T17:44:33

BE CLEAR, BOSS: As a manager, you're expected to make demands of other people. So why do many find it so hard?

Ron Ashkenas, managing partner at Robert H. Schaffer & Associates in Stamford, Conn., and author of the upcoming book "Simply Effective: How to Cut Through Complexity in Your Organization and Get Things Done," says it stems from an innate desire to be liked.

"It's unconscious and unintentional, but we all want to be well-received and respected," Ashkenas said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "Managers get anxious about giving tough messages and tend to water down their demands because of it."

Ashkenas mentions these mistakes managers should avoid:

  • Backing away from expectations. Whether they're afraid employees will argue with their request or just wave it off, many managers compromise their demands just to avoid confrontation. Be strong and clear when outlining what you need done. Don't, for instance, start a meeting by stating the company needs to cut costs by 20 percent, then negotiate when you see your subordinates' reactions.
  • Engaging in charades. Telling employees it's your boss, not you, who is setting certain goals suggests you are just passing the buck. It may also give an impression you don't believe they're even attainable.
  • Accepting seesaw trades. You need to increase sales, so the salespeople will say it can easily be done by cutting prices or giving deeper discounts. Making such adjustments quickly sucks you into a cycle of bargaining.
  • Setting vague or distant goals. If it's something that can be put off, it will be.
  • Failing to establish consequences. If someone does a mediocre job, give them a mediocre performance review. Holding people accountable is one of the most effective ways to get results.
  • Setting too many goals. Giving a long list only leaves individuals to make their own personal decision about which items are important, and which aren't. Instead, give two or three important goals that absolutely must be met.
  • Allowing deflection to preparations and studies. Hiring a consultant for a six-month study is another way to avoid the issues with employees. Work with your team to be proactive and experiment with your business strategy for the results you want.

"This may sound overly simplistic, but most employees like a challenge and will step up to the plate when they need to," Ashkenas said. "A tough assignment will probably be something they'll welcome, and respect you for."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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