Lessons from Line Management

On being a Line Manager
Lessons from Twenty five years

I was appointed to my first line manager role in 1987. It was an Assistant Supervisor role which I embarked upon with little or no prior line management experience. I stumbled my way through those early days and relied on the guidance, patience and support of those around me. My most valuable lessons about line management were learned here; lessons that became a foundation upon which I could subsequently build.

Since then I’ve held more senior line management positions up to and including senior management level. I’ve also had the benefit of working for, and with, some great line managers from whom I’ve learned an enormous amount. My work in HR has also provided me with the benefit of observing from the outside the impact of line management, both good and bad. So, here are a few of the lessons from those twenty five years.

1. Be generous with your time. Never underestimate how high a value people put on the time you give them. For someone who has a role which is less senior, a more senior manager who takes the time, regularly, to talk to them about what they are doing beats all of the wall plaques about values. This says “you’re not just a number”. Be curious – you will learn a lot about the business by talking to the people who are at the coal face. To make this happen you have to schedule it in your diary – put it in as a ‘meeting’ in Outlook if necessary.

2. Be generous with your praise. Always give credit for work done by your direct reports – mention them in dispatches. If anything, give them a bit more credit and underplay what you yourself may have done. Always give them credit by name. If you can, acknowledge them in the company of others. This will be appreciated for a long time to come.

3. Be generous with your knowledge. Passing on your experience to others will be repaid many times over. Some people believe that knowledge is power and therefore must be held onto and not shared. This is zero-sum game thinking. In fact the opposite is true. It is by sharing knowledge that real power is achieved. Sharing knowledge and experiences will improve delegation, improve the overall level of thinking in the organisation and will encourage openness and co-operation. It will also ensure that others pass on their knowledge to you and so you too will learn.

4. Be generous with your space. Unless it’s a very quick question, never have a long conversation with someone from behind your desk. Come around and sit with the person. Remove the physical barrier and engage with them.

5. Be generous with feedback. It isn’t all about praise. Don’t be afraid to give constructive feedback when it is needed. The most valuable lessons I have learned were those when someone took me to one side, pointed out my shortcomings and then helped me to improve. You do no-one a service by holding back advice and feedback that would help them to grow.

6. Be generous with small stuff. Remember birthdays and mark them (even if you have to rely on your Outlook reminder). Say “Thank you” with a card instead of an email.

7. Be generous with yourself. Regularly take time out to think – that’s what you’re paid for; you’re not paid on the quantity of emails you get through. Get into the “Important but Not Urgent” space. Brainstorm possibilities. Take a long-term view. Have big projects that you believe in.

8. Be generous with your peers. Talk to them outside of the formal interactions. Don’t base your relationships on your attendance at meetings. Call to their offices. Be interested in their view of the business. Act as a sounding board. Make a habit of meeting them for coffee. Find out what it is that energises them.

9. Be generous at home. When you are at home, be at home. If you need to work at home, block out a piece of time and let your family know that you’re at work. Don’t pretend to be at home when you’re really at the office. Children in particular are the greatest detectors of authenticity – they will know instinctively if your mind is elsewhere. You may fool yourself but you’re not fooling them.


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