Becoming a manager of managers: my pillars of line management
I don’t think there’s a right answer for how to be a good manager and this is just a distillation of where I am right now
I’ve recently become a manager of managers for the first time, and it got me thinking about how to help other managers do a good job. I thought it would be helpful for me to try and identify what sits at the core of my own management practice so I can help someone else address those same things but without me just telling them to do the things I do (Bad Advice).
This approach isn’t the only approach, and you may well think differently, and that’s okay. I don’t think there’s a “right answer” for how to be a good manager and this is just a distillation of where I am right now.
Right. Here goes. 5 pillars:
- Look after wellbeing
- Support growth
- Create an environment for effectiveness
- Be a sponsor
- Get out of the way
Look after wellbeing
The most important thing I focus on as a manager is, “Is the person I’m responsible for okay?” I try very hard to be approachable and to be clear that I’m on their side as much as possible. I want them to have the psychological safety to tell me when something’s wrong at work, or in their personal life. It’s important that they trust me (and that I trust them) for us to have an effective relationship. If we don’t have that trust, I’m pretty sure I can‘t effectively help with anything else.
To keep on top of how someone’s doing, I need to have regular contact with them. If I only see them once a month, I’m going to be too late to help if they’re having issues. I try to see the people I’m responsible for supporting every week. It’s okay if we skip some, but if we don’t have a default event every week, it becomes very easy to go weeks or months without a one to one because sickness, holiday, or general business cause us to miss the less regular catch ups.
I try to follow a rule that I’m not allowed to cancel one to ones, only rearrange them if I have to. Sometimes I’m too busy or mentally ill or overwhelmed to follow that to the letter, but I try to give one to ones priority over nearly anything else.
The other main part of my role as a manager is to help someone grow, but only if they want to grow. I have 2 jobs when it comes to supporting their growth:
- help them identify what they want and plan for it (or not if they’re happy where they are)
- help them grow in the ways the business needs them to or, if that’s not what they want, to grow in such a way that they can get the job they do want somewhere else
Yes, I strongly believe that sometimes the right thing for everyone is for the person to move to a different job and it’s the right thing for me to do to help them do that.
Create an environment for effectiveness
I think most people want to be able to do good work in their jobs. Many of us work because we have to, but we want to be good at what we do. Obviously, our employers also want us to be effective, but as a manager I’m here for the individual first, so that’s what I care about here.
To be good at their job, someone needs an environment that works for them. They need to be able to work with their teams and come to work most days without hurting themself, short or long term. As their manager, I need to be looking out for how their environment isn’t working for them and do something about it. Sometimes that’s helping them work out a different way of engaging with their work or teammates or helping them talk to their team about what they need. Sometimes it’s about surfacing the issues they’re having and possibly changing what they’re working on or who they’re working with.
Be a sponsor
As a manager, I have one of the best views of the whole picture of someone I manage: what they’re good at, what they want to do more of, and how they want to grow. It’s my job to look out for opportunities for them to do those things and put them forward.
This might mean talking to the people who work out who works on what. It might mean spotting internal projects they could work on. It might mean talking to their team about giving them more opportunities on the project they’re already on. It’s about putting my reputation and social capital on the line and saying, “They’d be great at this – give them the opportunity” and fighting for that to be heard.
Get out of the way
Finally, as anyone who’s worked with me directly will know, I find it really hard to let things go. In a management relationship, it’s important that people have the space to make their own decisions, especially when I’m as disconnected from what they’re doing day to day as I am at dxw where I rarely work directly with the people I manage. So one of my pillars is to explicitly try to let them get on with it without me sticking my nose in and to only give them an occasional nudge if they need it. I’m not always successful at this, but it’s there as the caveat to everything else. Do just enough to help.
So that’s it: look after wellbeing, support growth, create an environment for effectiveness, be a sponsor, and get out of the way.
I’m still working out how I make sure the person at the end of a reporting line is having these things looked after when I’m not their direct manager, but I thought it would be helpful to share where I’m at so far in case it’s helpful to others!
Also, I’m only 1 person who’s learned by doing. What do you think? Is this a useful model? Have I missed anything? Am I wrong? Do you have pillars of your own that overlap (or not)? Let me know! I’m on Twitter or you can email me. I want to be the best manager I can be, and that’s only helped by hearing about more perspectives.