Are You A Good Line Manager?

Hi everyone,

I’ve been thinking about line management this week and how it can be difficult to support a team of people who have very different personality types. You’ll tend to know where the more extraverted members of the team are at but the more introverted team members are less likely to reveal their difficulties, which can make you and the whole team think that they’re OK when they’re not. Very tricky.

Line management can be difficult even when you have a team of fabulous people working with you.  You still need to schedule time for reviews, one to one progress meetings, team meetings and ad hoc discussions.  And that’s before you start your work!  Or is it?  I used to work in the NHS and we ran a course, delivered by another NHS provider, for a group of new-ish Line Managers.  One of the things they were told is that line management is the first thing you do, it is not something you do when you’ve got time; when all the reports are written, policies are up to date and your customers are fully content.  If you waited until then you’d never talk to anyone!!  I think it’s a really good point that got lost along the way somewhere over the years and probably reflects the increasing levels of responsibility and workload people are given which means they have less time to interact with their team.

Years ago when I worked for a Bank, I had a team of people who I always put first and then started my own work at 5pm after they’d all gone home so I am not saying for one minute that I get it right but I think there’s a balance to be had to ensure people get the right support.  It’s very easy to say “my door’s always open!” but are we giving out lots of conscious and sub-conscious messages that a conversation, question or request for support are not actually welcome?  If you look stressed and harassed much of the time then people won’t want to bother you unless they really need to, until they’re at crisis point possibly and so you may find yourself re-organising workload across the team at a moment’s notice, whereas regular conversations tend to mean fewer surprises and you can plan workload more proactively, most of the time.

I do think that line management is an almost impossible job these days.  You get work fed to you (generally) from more senior colleagues and offer support to your team members but who’s supporting you?  It’s not surprising that people burn out.  Peer support can be a great asset but be careful that you don’t use the time to whinge about things.  That can make the whole mood feel very negative and the value of the group decreases very quickly.

Splitting your team or peer support group meeting into personality types may help make your time together more productive and get the best out of people.  If you start with the introverted feeling team members, they will give you a sense of how things feel, what people are talking about and concerned about.  Next move to your extraverted feeling team members, they’ll give you the word on the street for the wider organisation, your customers and providers.  They love to stay connected and so are good at getting a wider strategic view of things.  Don’t let them talk for the rest of the meeting though as others will feel left out.  Next go to your introverted thinkers, they’ll give you a good sense of your performance, they’ll have access to costs and data and are good at identifying potential risks.  Finally, look to your extraverted thinkers who will focus on who’s going to do what and when, to drive things forward and end the meeting with a good sense of momentum.

If you need some help with identifying personality types you can watch my Introduction to Personality Types video on my Strength of Introversion Online page.

I appreciate my examples are very general but my focus is very much towards creating an environment that allows all of your team to have a voice.  Sometimes more extraverted team members can drown out the more introverted ones.  The introverts have just as much to say but sometimes need help to find the space to speak up.  Extraverts think out loud and introverts don’t so as a Line Manager and the lead for the meeting, make sure that you draw people into the conversation.  That will make them feel more valued, more likely to contribute in future and more likely to give you the heads up when they see a risk on the horizon.  Your extraverted team members will do that too of course but generally they’ll feel more comfortable about communicating that and so you won’t miss out on information from them.

Good line management is about building and supporting a robust team of people who look out for each other and step in when someone’s struggling.  They have a good mix of skills and can cover for each other during absences.  They have opportunities to talk to you and appreciate the support and time that you give them.  Does that sound too idealistic?  If so, maybe my sense of ‘team’ is different to yours but however you do it, please try to make sure that all of your team has a voice.  If you don’t engage with the quiet ones and find a way to offer support, you may well be surprised when they move on suddenly.  Quiet, more introverted people can be easier to manage as they’re emotionally self-sufficient but please don’t think that they don’t need any support.  Just a small amount of regular contact, engagement and support will get you a long way.

It’s easy to be wise after the event isn’t it?  I wish I’d flippin known all that 20 years ago!  Sigh.  Learn from your team and your mistakes, that’ll make you a great Line Manager ?

Take good care please and have a great day.

Best wishes, Karen