When I run courses for line managers or speak one on one with line managers I nearly always talk about the line manager sandwich – it’s not a pleasant analogy because it relates to the fact that line managers often “sit” in an almost impossible place in-between senior leaders and direct reports. With everyone wanting something from them but not always getting much in return. It often must feel like a no-win situation. It therefore takes a special person to fill that sandwich.
A line manager is the first port of call for their reports; their supporter, motivator, teacher, counsellor, communicator and font of all knowledge. The expectation is that a line manager knows everything that is going on but in reality, they often have to spend time extracting what they need to know from senior leaders, pushing for information and news, protecting their staff from unrealistic deadlines and impatient leaders and walking a precarious tightrope to manage everyone around them.
Senior leaders sometimes believe that line management isn’t a full time, dedicated job, or that line managers cannot manage people if they are too removed from “the business”. This often results in line managers having dual responsibility for people and for business projects, activities, systems or processes. Their sandwich then becomes a triple decker! I could write an entire blog on the pitfalls of such an approach but suffice to say whatever approach an organisation takes they must follow one simple rule: A line manager has to be able to put their line management accountabilities first.
In my experience expert line managers, comfortable in the sandwich do 10 very clever things:
- Proactively network with other line managers – because of their own challenges around access to information and timely communication they happily give and share information openly with each other. For example, when one has discovered the timelines that HR have set for goal assessments they quickly and expertly make sure everyone has the details. Knowledge sharing and networking saves time and that’s the most precious commodity for a line manager
- Actively listen – not just acting as a sounding board (although this remains a regular occurrence) but listening attentively to what is being said and what is not quite being said, and demonstrating they ARE listening
- Treat people as unique individuals – when it comes to line management there is no “one size fits all” model. Employees are unique and have very different needs that change at different stages of their lives. Expert line managers know that and continuously adapt.
- Invest in employee engagement – the single best predictor of employee engagement is the employee’s relationship with their immediate line manager. When line managers are given time to manage effectively then they can demonstrate they care, they can show interest in their repots lives, they can care how their report feels and they can support their health and well-being. They can show a genuine interest which fosters a strong relationship.
- Understand their role in managing change – change in organisations isn’t an event it’s now a way of working. Managing through constant change takes resilience and that is what great line managers have. They can be agents for change and help others to explore and commit to change
- Create trusting relationships through vulnerability – this is with those more senior than them. By expertly talking about and describing the impact behaviour, lack of information, poor communication, ineffective change leadership or other challenges are having on people in the organisation, the line manager can be the eyes of the organisation for senior leaders. By carefully sharing the reality rather than trying to fix or hides things very powerful, trusting relationships are created.
- Remove obstacles – understanding what is keeping people from moving forward to do their job or increase their knowledge or progress their career and put in place a framework to overcome the obstacles that can mean direct reports can move forward (however small the steps may be)
- Adopt a growth mindset – line managers that ensure their direct reports maintain a growth mindset (believe that failures and setbacks always provide an opportunity to learn and improve) help develop employees with perseverance and a passion for long term goals (both personal and professional).
- Understand the importance of delegation – creating an environment where the line manager is actively relying on others to help carry projects/business goals. Still informed, but letting others lead so they can grow their abilities and perspective
- Laugh – It may well be a coping mechanism to survive the roller-coaster world of line management but successful line managers I have worked with don’t take themselves too seriously and make sure fun and humour is part of work. People like to laugh and it’s good for wellbeing so strong line managers never forget to bring fun into the work place.
I know from personal experience when I was a leader my global departments greatly benefited from the partnerships I had with the line managers I was lucky enough to have alongside me. At times of expansion they had to drive the recruitment and training of new team members and yet in times of reorganisations then had to play key roles in redundancies or restructuring.
My managers were well positioned to identify problems with our strategic planning and their input was essential for organizational learning when planning for and executing organisational change initiatives.
Now working at Anything Is Possible I strive to make sure the leaders I work with appreciate sandwich they can create for their line managers and make sure they appreciate the clever things they do.