Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Eight things that a new line manager should know

A couple of interactions today – an email from a former colleague, and a conversation with a fellow consultant – got me thinking about line management, and what advice I’d give my younger self.

Line management can feel overwhelming, particularly if it’s the first time you’ve taken on that role. It’s also a very important job – we spend so much of our time at work, and often invest in our work so much of our persona and values, that the quality of our management can have a dramatic impact upon our well-being. So, no pressure then.

Here’s eight things I’ve learned which might help.

Be yourself. One of the hardest things to do when managing someone is to get really good and clear communication with the person you are managing. One important thing you can do is remove the layers of artifice that a stilted relationship can bring. You don’t have to be mates with the people you’re managing (and a bit of distance is not a bad idea) but equally you don’t have to be a robot. If you can be authentic in your relationship with your team, there’s a better chance that they’ll hear you, and trust you enough to tell you things. Authenticity doesn’t have to mean baring your soul to the world, but it does mean remembering that you’re a person as well as a role holder.

Set direction. If you don’t get the job done there’s no point in the whole thing. So be clear in your own mind what it is that you’re trying to do, and then make sure that your team know too. And use this as a fixed point to steer by: how are you doing, has the need changed; is there a better way you could do it. But always know what it is you need to achieve. Remember also, if someone hasn’t heard what you’re trying to say, the best thing is not to blame them for not listening, but see if you can explain it some other how.

Remove obstacles. Your team are doing the work, you’re managing them. That means delegate, let them do the work, and focus on removing the barriers that can get in the way. That might mean helping your team develop skills; that might mean holding a mirror up to your team (I probably mean that figuratively); that might mean making sure that they have the tools to do the job; that might mean a pep talk so that they don’t make an impassable mountain in their minds. But look at yourself as the coach, the sweeper, the resource finder and the problem solver, and they’ll be free to do a great job. Which people mostly do want to do.

Listen. Carefully. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own view of the world and not see other ways of looking at things, and your team can be a great help to you. But you have to have ears to hear, and the listening skills to hear what isn’t being said, or is being said elliptically, as well as what is being said. My experience was that as I got more senior in my career, two things happened. Firstly, my jokes seemed to get funnier, and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t true. And secondly, very few people just chatted with me. And it’s in these conversations that you can find out a lot of useful things. I don’t mean that you should be an eavesdropper: no one will trust you then, which is pretty much fatal to a managerial relationship. But equally don’t think that your words are the only important ones to hear.

Good enough is good enough. This is a tough one. We all want to do things really well, and we all will have personal and professional standards about what we want our work to look like. But if you stop when something is good enough – when it meets the need, when it ticks the boxes – then you’ve got more time to do other things. The quest for perfection will bring you long hours in the office, and you’ll get less done than others. Is this what you set out to do?

Tell the truth. Always. If people know that you’ll be straightforward with them, they’ll by and large do the same for you. And that is a huge blessing. It doesn’t mean be cruel (you should never do this), or be too blunt, or lack tact, but it does mean make sure that what you mean is what you say, and that you say it clearly. It doesn’t always make for comfortable conversations, but it does build respect and trust.

Say 'thank you'. When someone has done a job for you, thank them. When you see something being done well, say so. When someone has gone the extra mile, tell them, thank them, and try and do so in front of their manager. People are predisposed to hear bad things and to be aware of problems - I suspect it's part of our basic survival instincts - which means that you have to say a lot of thank-yous for them to be noticed. But they are one of the most powerful tools that you have, and can help a team achieve the impossible. Don't save 'Thank you' for someone's retirement speech.

You will make mistakes. You will get things wrong. You will feel like you don’t know the first things about people or your job, and that there’s no hope for you as a manager. Don’t worry – everybody does this (and if they say otherwise they are lying, to you and possibly to themselves.) And when you make a mistake, fess up. Say sorry if you’ve wronged someone. Tell your manager, and say what you’re going to do to put it right (managers love it when their team do this bit). Ask for help. But stop beating yourself up about it. There’s plenty who’ll be happy to beat you up, and there’s no need to help them.

This isn’t all the things that you need to know and do – but when I reflect on my experiences, and when I’ve talked to others, these ideas always come up. And remember where we started: you’re doing an important job; it’s hard; but it’s definitely worth the effort.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Hugh - that's very interesting. I've never knowingly inspired a blog post before!