THE most transformational management skillset?...
So last Sunday I posed a question to my wonderful LinkedIn contacts; ‘What makes an exemplary line manager?’
The 8,000 views (pretty high for lil’ ole me) signalled to me that this topic is of huge interest, whilst the 17 responses were valuable, my conclusion was that perhaps most people were interested in the answer but had little or no experience of exemplary line management. Hmmmm.
Now, with a background in creative industries, where people are so evidently the main asset, it strikes me as obvious that line management is one of the most critical skillsets your managers and leaders should demonstrate. But let’s be honest, in today’s frenetic workplace, where turmoil and uncertainty reign, all-too-often agencies are focussed on the short-term, I suggest line management is rarely given the focus it deserves.
“Line management is rarely given the focus it deserves.”
I counter that when stress, anxiety and mental ill health are the new epidemic, where the war on talent is brutal and whereby most sectors are seeing challenging and costly levels of staff turnover, surely effective management of your key and most costly asset is now mission-critical?
I accept that there are natural-born people managers and arguably not everyone is cut out to be the Messi or Paula Radcliffe of line management, but, ever the optimist, I do believe EVERYONE can learn basic principles and skills to do a vastly better job of it.
Leaning heavily on the wonderful LinkedIn comments I received (thank-you learned friends), here are my top ten characteristics of an exemplary line manager;
1) They care; someone who genuinely cares and supports this in their behaviour. I feel passionately that in today’s environment, where you bring your whole self to work, LMs should engage with the whole person, well-being, career AND performance. Show situational leadership skills e.g. they put their arm around you when needed but equally ready to help you understand a challenging reality
2) Make time; they always make time if asked, ‘do you have 5 minutes?’ and make moving scheduled check-ins the rare exception not the rule
3) Lost art of listening; exceptional listening skills (look up Time to Think by Nancy Kline - thx Liz Nottingham for the invaluable intro), someone who shows empathy and is constant in this regard
4) Honesty & transparency; builds a relationship build on mutual trust, does what they say they will do and does not over-promise. Gives feedback in such a way that is informative, clear, constructive but still leaves you feeling that they have your back and are rooting for you
5) Long game; is focussed on helping build a long-term career path not purely focussed on short-terms, transactional goals
6) Coach; doesn’t spoonfeed you, rather guides you to the right answer (moving into coaching territory but why shouldn’t a line manager also help coach you?)
7) In the know; knowledgeable about the vision of the organisation and the opportunities therein for their direct reports (clearly there is an organisational responsibility here but the best LMs will be pushing their organisations to be better all the time)
8) Inspires; leads by example, is an inspiration and an ambassador for the brand they represent and by implication, the opportunities for their direct report within that organisation
9) Relevancy; has practical and relevant experience to provide guidance and insight into getting the job done
10) Balance; able to find a balance between offering excellent support to the individual and, acting as a representative of the organisation. Honestly, this can be a tricky one but, so important to get the best out of a team.
I want to finish with two viewpoints picked up from previous bosses. The first tip I acquired from Firefly’s Claire Walker a scarily long-time ago, ‘never be surprised by your direct reports.’ The message here is that you have not developed a relationship based on openness and trust if for example, a resignation is unexpected. Secondly, a position that Golin MD Bibi Hilton regularly expresses and echoed by her deputy, Emily Luscombe, ‘line management is a privilege. Treat it as such.’
Let me leave you with a lovely neat quote from one of my LinkedIn contributors, ‘The best line managers I’ve had were able to inspire, listen and teach in equal measure.’ Is that you?