There’s no doubt about it: line management is a lifelong learning journey. There’s not a people manager around who hasn’t made mistakes but, as with all things in life, learning from mistakes is what makes you better today than yesterday.
If you’ve been line managing people for a long time, there will be insights and epiphanies you’ve had along the way and lessons you learned that you just wish you’d known earlier.
We’ve identified six of them. Take a look and see if you agree.
There’s no right way to manage people
You need to find your style and the way you personally get results. Some people can pull off being a ‘no nonsense’ line manager, but maybe you can’t. And you don’t need to, so there’s no point trying to fake it.
Getting results is not about adopting a specific style: it’s about developing confidence in your own style and then flexing it where necessary to suit the people you manage.
It’s easy to fall into the impostor syndrome trap when it comes to managing people, which can make you feel like you need to adopt a different style and then – only then – will you be effective. But it’s just not true, which makes it liberating when you realise your style can be just as effective as anyone else’s.
Delegation is your number one tool for development
Delegation is something new managers often avoid. Why? Because they don’t like telling people what to do.
But, of course, delegation is not about telling people what to do, but orienting them towards a goal and allowing them to self-develop through finding a way to meet that goal. Delegation is about getting work done, sure, but it’s about getting work done in a way that encourages self-growth.
Having this epiphany can unleash a line manager’s potential: suddenly a skill that seemed daunting becomes one of the most important tools in the toolbox.
Following how you feel can easily lead you astray
People management is easy to make about you, say if you feel like someone is taking advantage of your empathy. Imagine you’re getting lots of requests for flexible working. Is it because everyone thinks you won’t say no? If you think it is, you’ll probably change your behaviour, causing you to be of the worst things a line manager can be: inconsistent.
Unfortunately, it’s very easy to ‘go the other way’ when we think that our style is causing other people’s behaviour to change. But oftentimes it isn’t true and we mustn’t be drawn in. Line management is not about you: it’s about mutual respect, clarity of expectations, continuous improvement and reaching an outcome that works for all stakeholders.
Always start with respect and go from there
Assuming the best is not only a good lesson for life, but it’s also essential for line managers.
Managers often like to recruit people like them, because they are easy to understand, talk to and get the most from. When we don’t understand what makes someone tick, or why they do what they do, we start to compare them to others, and that’s dangerous.
If someone is underperforming, some managers will automatically think they’re lazy and trying to get away with doing the bare minimum. Other managers start with more positive explanations: maybe they’ve got personal problems at home. Maybe they feel ill. Maybe they don’t quite understand the tasks they need to perform.
When you respect people as a rule, you assume the best and treat people like adults. Once you lose respect for someone, it’s hard to get it back, and this makes line management so much more difficult because every time you interact with that person, you start from an unhealthy place.
Treating people with respect increases the likelihood of adult-to-adult conversations, which reduces interpersonal conflict. As a line manager, it’s empowering when you start to see how treating people with respect at all times changes the nature of the conversation.
Complete honesty really does win the day
This is linked to respect. When we respect someone, we recognise that we owe them the truth because it is best for them.
Shying away from the truth is often a selfish act, designed to protect the self from risk, but rationalised along the lines of not wanting to hurt someone. But often it’s better to hurt someone in the short-term rather than cause even more harm in the long-term.
Honesty is a gift and, as managers, it is a duty to be honest with people. When managers are honest, employees value their opinion, and this is a very strong platform for a long-term, mutually trusting relationship.
Clarity of communication is fundamental
Leaders can use vague rhetoric, emotion-driven speeches and, at the right time and place, these work well. For many leaders, they are an important part of their style.
First-time managers will often blend the leadership and management roles without realising that in management, good, clear communication is the order of the day. Style does not matter as long as it’s clear.
If it’s not clear, expectations get misaligned, situations arise that need firefighting and there’s always the latent potential for conflict. Good communication helps avoid these problems because everyone understands what is expected and by when.
Clear communication is something that often doesn’t come naturally to managers. It requires self-development in:
- use of language (with a focus on simple, well-known words)
- capacity for active listening
- the ability to build an environment where employees feel able to tell you if they require further explanations or guidance
Once you realise the power of good communication as a line manager, it becomes an absolute no-brainer to develop your skills in this area.
What do you think? Do you wish you’d known these earlier? Tell us if you’ve learned anything on your line management journey that would have been useful to know earlier.