With so much talk and chatter across the online networks lately about the merits of developing great leadership within organisations, it occurred to me recently that it wouldn’t hurt to put the subject of management

In fact, whilst we’ve generally been pre-occupied with exploring the secrets of great leadership amongst ourselves, we may have been neglecting those line managers along the way, who don’t want to be leaders, but really want to be good managers.

Of course, having a leadership development program in place for your senior executives and key management roles is a must-have, but what about giving line managers what they need to become great too?

Battling, day in day out, to implement the vision and strategies of his or her senior leadership team, whilst trying to manage and motivate their team to carry the unpopular decisions that occasionally fly out of the board room…

It’s no wonder that some potentially superb line managers lose their zest for success, and become stuck in a rut. It’s also no secret that general managers generally get a bad press these days (haven’t they always?).

They are often expected to perform minor miracles for supervisors who have little to no idea what it’s really like to be on the shop floor.

wordynessWhat’s the deal with line managers?

Being a line manager is completely different from all the other positions within an organisational structure.

In most organisations, line managers get stuck in the space between the “leadership rock” and the “employee hard place”, and can often have difficulty knowing exactly what is really expected of them from both sides.

One moment they were at the top of their game, hitting their KPIs and steaming through customer orders.

The next moment (shortly after hearing the words “We’d like to make you manager!”) they’re expected to spend 85% of their time “managing” a team of peoplewho were once friendly work buddies, and who now have to follow orders from a former workmate.

So let’s look at this for a moment.

Sometimes Line managers also need some support to help them keep focus and keep out of their comfort zone.

How to improve line management

What’s important for any organisation from the outset, is to make sure that the right type of manager for the job is in place (you didn’t think there was only one kind of “effective manager”, did you?).

Although hiring the best manager for the job requires a lot of detailed profiling to get it right, what’s clear is that line managers must not only be able to engage and interact with people and managers above them in the company hierarchy, i.e. their senior managers and leadership team.

It is also crucial for line managers to be able to build healthy and positive relationships with those below and those who are on a similar level to them in the corporate business structure.

While their role as a conduit is crucial, many line managers may feel that their actual impact and influence is limited.

After all, if their key decisions are influenced by the actions of upper level management and their results and performances are determined by people below them, it can be difficult for managers to stamp their own authority on their role.

This lack of empowerment can actually cause huge demotivation in staff members, and managers can fall into a rut all too easily.

Line managers can quickly become accustomed to a comfort zone which will see them, their employees below them, and eventually the firm stagnate.

That’s not only bad for business, it’s bad for staff morale, employee retention, and ultimately bad for the line manager who often has to reach a point where they suffer health problems before he or she decides to bite the bullet and jump ship.

A line manager needs to manage change

Whatever side of the fence you’re on, you’ll probably agree that this is clearly bad for business and for employee engagement and productivity.

This means it’s essential for line managers to be active in taking the business forward and in pursuing change for the organisation.

A line manager will all too often focus on the operational, financial or technical goals within their job-spec, forgetting about the fact that – although maybe not on paper and not in the eyes of their superiors – they are also expected to act like a leader by their reports.

It definitely wouldn’t hurt a manager to ask themselves about their own potential for leadership from time to time.

OK, ok, I wasn’t too complimentary about leadership a little earlier on, I know.

But the fact is that line managers could do a lot worse than glug down a little dose of leadership from time to time.

That’s because leadership ultimately signifies trust, commitment, vision and strong interpersonal skills, all of which MUST be included on the tool belt of any good line manager worth his or her salt.

Being a leader implies that you are setting off in a certain direction and that people are following you.

For a line manager, this means making business decisions which are aimed at pushing your company forward and at inspiring your employees.

There may only be some people with “natural” leadership qualities, but all line managers can benefit from knowing how to develop leadership skills.

There are certain attributes and skills that people have which can help them to become good leaders and even if a line manager doesn’t recognise these qualities in themselves at first, they can be developed and improved over time.

Effective line managers develop their employees

When looking to develop their skills as a people manager, it can be helpful for the line manager to think about the make-up of the people and teams that they have working for them.

It’s always preferable to focus on maintaining high levels of morale in a team, and this is where a really good line manager will lead and excel with his employees at the forefront of his mind.

Ideally, this is where a line manager would provide feedback to HR about the employees and is also where a manager should be supported by the HR and training processes of a company with the right kind of data about his or her team.

While a manager should always aim to develop his understanding and knowledge of what it takes to be a really effective management professional, they should also be keen to encourage working as a team.

This is the paradox, no, the Achilles’ heel, of many a line manager.

There’s a simple reason for this.

Despite expectations being placed on a manager from above to “lead and motivate” their teams, they know that, to develop a really strong and fruitful relationship with their employees.

Managers also need to still be considered as being “part of the team”, which means pulling in the same direction, but keeping a healthy distance too.

A good line manager – and this is a real biggie – should also spend some of the training and development budget on developing their own skills to allow them to a) develop the self-awareness that they need to recognise their own management style, and b) learn how to understand the motivating needs of their teams.

In this way, they can  to tailor their own style to get the best from their individual employees.

Invest in the team and get better results in business

Managers who are stuck in their own comfort zone usually forget the reason why they’re actually there in the first place:

To give their employees what they need to achieve and surpass the greater goals of the organisation.

Ultimately, being a successful line manager and building an über-successful team is not merely about providing instructions and then expecting employees to follow these orders – despite what some managers may think.

From experience, I can safely say that I know of very, very few successful managers or team leaders who have not recognised the importance of investing their energy into their people and teams as well as into their own development.

They know that managementis more than just organising and controlling, and they also know just how easy it is for line managers to fall between the cracks, and end up being far too comfortable, for far too long.

The fact that the success of any project or department relies on basic elements like people working together effectively ensures that teamwork skills are an important part of business development.

So, next time you’re dealing with a line manager that has lost the trust and commitment of their team, or who is unable to retain their brightest employees longer than 6 months, don’t get mad, and don’t get even either.

They may just be stuck in their comfort zone.

Please share your experiences below. We would love to heat your experiences!

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