Your subordinates aren’t going to stick their necks out to tell you how you’re screwing up.
Your job is to get the work done, partially on your own but mostly through leveraging the talent of other people.
Here's where you may be screwing up (and nobody's going stick their neck out and tell you):
You don't understand your job very well. It's not about keeping the trains moving on time. It's about making sure the trains are safe. If the staff is doing stupid busywork, change the work.
You jump to conclusions. A manager is the hub between staff and leadership. Both sides have a point of view. If you act like Gilligan and simply accept what people tell you, or worse, make up your mind before finding out the facts, whatever you do next will be misguided.
You don't pay attention to the larger political climate. There are ideas, words, groups and people who are in favor, and conversely, there are those who are on the outs. If you try to handle a work team in isolation from these intangible but very real facts, guess how effective your efforts will be? Additionally, you have to deal with the very real fact that the organization itself is likely fractured and dysfunctional, and that the problems in your division, office or work team are a symptom of that impossible-for-you-to-change reality.
You refuse to think critically about people's motives. This isn't to say that your colleagues are "bad." It is to say that each person operates from a locus of self-interest. What is it that people want out of a situation? What evidence do you have of the drivers behind their behavior? It is your job to understand those things as best you can. Otherwise, you are driving blind on the freeway.
You are afraid to admit when you're out of your league. Everybody has limitations. Take me. I have social anxiety, believe it or not. Also vertigo. So if you tell me I have to go to a party and drive for an hour to get there, I am going to fight the whole situation like a cat, because that's me. We all face situations like that at work—triggers, issues, fears, situations we just aren't skilled at handling. Instead of being defensive, that is precisely the time to go to your boss or someone else you trust to help you, and lay it all out.
Many people think that management is an outdated job and that marshaling talent forward is a "layer" of the organization that is becoming less and less necessary.
But from where I sit as a practicing manager, this profession and these skills are more important than ever. The problem is only that we don't properly understand—or take the time to learn—the dimensions of what it is we are supposed to be doing.
Copyright 2016 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. The opinions expressed are her own, and the content of this post is not intended to represent any federal agency or the government as a whole.